Communication. Teamwork. Problem solving. These are the skills a large majority of employers are seeking in their workforce — in addition to the relevant expertise required in specific industries. And, according to the Talent Task Force, a group created by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition — they are the skills that many employers claim are the most difficult to come by.
The Talent Task Force — comprised of representatives from business, labor, education, government, workforce, economic development and nonprofits — identified key talent-related challenges facing Southeast Michigan that needed to be addressed to move the economy forward. The most common issue identified by the task force was a shortage of soft skills, with no bearing on sector, industry or occupation.
The group’s Lifelong Soft Skills Framework — developed to help identify best practices and successful soft-skill strategies — indicates that these skills are not just a challenge for entry-level employees, but for highly educated professionals as well.
According to Naheed Huq, community and workforce development manager for SEMCOG, soft skills, also called “foundational” or “employability” skills, are non-technical skills that go a long way to ensure an employee’s success in the workplace. Often, says Huq, “the lack of soft skills is a fundamental reason for employee firings.”
The skills identified in the Lifelong Soft Skills Framework include:
• Personal traits: work ethic and judgment
• Learned academic skills: communication, basic reading, writing, math and basic digital literacy
• Life skills: teamwork, problem solving and time management
The research points out that, while some soft skills may be more important in certain occupations, most are essential for workplace success at every level of an organization.
From The Beginning
Huq notes that soft-skill development is a lifelong effort that begins with parents and continues through elementary school, middle school, high school, college and even employment.
However, according to the Talent Task Force Framework, “The issue of soft-skills development has been a particular challenge for educators and employers because for years they’ve taken a back seat to technical or academic courses in the education system. At the same time, they have not been clearly identified by employers in their hiring processes.” The report goes on to say: “Unlike technical skills, it is difficult to measure or evaluate success in soft skills, although it is clear where they are lacking.”
Programs Designed For Workplace Success
More and more educators, corporations and other organizations are offering courses and programs to help promote the development of soft skills. Here are just a few programs committed to this cause:
• Michigan State University’s Capstone Experience provides students majoring in computer science with an opportunity to design a software project for a corporate client while working in a team environment and developing written and oral communication skills.
• Oakland University is piloting a soft-skills certificate with different groups at the university, identifying 12 areas of concentration, including leadership, professionalism and communications.
• Walsh College offers a series of soft-skills training programs that provide immediate skills for participants. The workshops focus on interpersonal interaction, personal image, branding and communication.
• The Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies Next Generation Learning program includes a curriculum that teaches soft skills to more than 140,000 students nationwide and increases the number of students qualified in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
• Oakland County Schools’ career tech track provides technical education in high-demand career clusters, but also teaches networking, personal branding, ethics, leadership, diversity and life/work balance.
• Focus: HOPE’s Jump Start program provides students with an introductory course designed to impact their awareness and knowledge of behaviors and skills necessary for success.
Huq says the future workforce’s success in developing the necessary soft skills depends on the participation of diverse groups that understand the critical need for appropriate education and training. “We all need to be part of the solution.”