The importance of developing soft skills in millennials

A recent study by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) found that U.S. Millennials lag behind their global counterparts in a way that creates real on-the-job problems for them, their colleagues and teammates, and managers: They show a genuine lack of hard and soft skills.

According to the ETS Report, U.S. Millennials “…consistently score below many of their international peers in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to results from previous years of U.S. adult surveys.”

In real terms, this means American Millennials struggle with:

  • Literacy: For all of the technology they utilize —and the volume of content they face—on a day to day basis, this is one area that Millennials, and those tasked with teaching and/or training them, need to focus on developing.
  • Numeracy: American Millennials ranked last globally, along with Italy and Spain. Basic math skills need to be improved.
  • Problem solving using digital technology: This is perhaps the biggest surprise for a generation regularly described as “digital natives.”

I am never a fan of generational stereotyping or generational bashing, so in spite of this research, let’s not be so quick as to categorize an entire generation into one group. However, these issues could be a warning signal and something that we need to take note of, both from an educational standpoint pre-workforce, as well as an opportunity for mentoring during employment.

It goes without saying that problem solving and communication skills are key skills for the corporate workplace. These survey results DO make one thing clear—today’s business leaders should be aware of potential issues and think about how their organizations can create a workplace culture that identifies problems and puts systems and ongoing training in place that enable Millennials to improve their soft skills on the job.

Encourage Millennials to Build the Soft Skills They Lack

The ETS study is a warning, not a conviction. Most data shows that Millennials work hard when inspired and professional development and helpful feedback (and lots of it!) is important to them. The most short-sighted thing any company could do would be to discount Millennials when hiring, just because they are short a few soft skills. Instead, take the initiative to help develop these soft skills in millennials.

The first step is to just be aware that there might be a problem and to be out in front of it. Millennials might not be the only members of your team who need help when it comes to soft skills, so focus on creating a cooperative, supportive environment where mentoring is prevalent. That will make it easier to take the steps necessary to improve the skills of your whole workforce, and of course, any younger members of your team who might need it.

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First published on Talent Culture by Meghan M. Biro.

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