Employers stress need for soft skills

Image/source: Cengage, “The People Factor: Uniquely Human Skills Tech Can’t Replace at Work,” January 2019.

As automation increases, “uniquely human” or soft skills are among the most important skills sought by employers.

Nearly three-quarters of employers (73 percent), however, have trouble finding workers with those skills, according to a survey of 650 employers and more than 1,500 current and former college students. It was conducted by Morning Consult for Cengage, which is a corporate partner of the American Association of Community Colleges.

For community college leaders, the survey findings highlight the importance of incorporating interpersonal, critical thinking and similar skills into their academic and workforce programs.

New hires unprepared

At least 65 percent of employers said soft skills are most in demand, while just 47 percent said quantitative skills and 50 percent noted computer and technical skills as their top priority. But more than one-third (34 percent) of employers said schools have not properly prepared students for jobs.

Among soft skills, employers said they were looking to hire people with:

  • Listening skills (74 percent)
  • Attention to detail and attentiveness (70 percent)
  • Effective communication (69 percent)
  • Critical thinking (67 percent)
  • Interpersonal skills (65 percent)
  • Active learning/learning new skills (65 percent)

“These results show that we must not underestimate the power of the people factor in the workforce,” Cengage CEO Michael Hansen said in a press release. “Technology and automation will continue to change and replace jobs, but there are skills that cannot be automated, such as the ability to think critically or problem solve.”

The report advises students to hone such skills as critical thinking, listening and effective communication while they’re still in school, so they’ll be prepared for a job after they graduate.

A role for colleges

Nearly half of the employers think schools should focus on teaching students soft skills, but the most important training students should get is on the job; 72 percent of employers think students should gain work experience before they graduate.

Among other findings from the survey:

  • One in three employers feel school has not adequately prepared new hires for work, and one in three students believe their school has not adequately prepared them for work.
  • One-quarter (25 percent) of all college students believe technology will eventually replace all jobs. That figure rises to 28 percent for Generation Z students (age 18-21) but drops to 20 percent for former students.
  • Sixty-four percent of employers say it’s “very or somewhat difficult” to find qualified applicants with critical-thinking skills, 54 percent say it’s difficult to find applicants with listening skills, and 55 percent say it’s hard to find people with communication or interpersonal skills.
  • Just 37 percent of employers say they invest a significant amount of time in training new hires to acquire the necessary skills for their organization, and 49 percent say they invest a moderate amount of time in training new hires.
  • Only 40 percent of employers say they offer interpersonal skill training, while 72 percent provide job-specific training.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.
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