Filling the Skills Gap: Soft Skills are the Key

When faced with the choice between technical expertise or intangible personality traits, hiring managers choose the former. This preference is amplified in more technical fields like engineering, programming, and project management.

Unfortunately, this approach is unsustainable.

Why? First, millennials are career-hoppers. Recent studies have found that millennials change jobs four times during their first decade after college — often from one career to an entirely different one.  Companies that lock graduates into the catch-22 of needing work experience to get work experience are likely to shut out young talent.

Second, the demand of skilled workers is greater than the supply. Current patterns of growth reveal that, if nothing changes, many of America’s industries will find themselves undermanned in several years. For example, about 60,000 information technology workers enter the workforce annually; the current economy demands around 100,000 per year over the next decade.

This trend is called the “skills gap” — and it’s effectively a lose-lose situation; it is a loss for unemployed workers, and a loss for understaffed companies.

How can we prevent this?

Hire employees based on their potential success — not their past success. Focus on candidates’ soft skills — traits like leadership, cooperation, and abstract thinking. Unlike hard skills, soft skills will never be in short supply.

Indeed, soft skills are starting to gain some traction in the workplace. 77% of employers reporting that they value soft skills as well as hard skills and 89% of employers claiming that their “unsuccessful new hires” failed because of a lack of soft skills.

Even better, science backs this up. Studies confirm that hiring managers shifting towards potential hiring are making a wise decision. For example, one study found that salary is highly correlated with traits like workplace conscientiousness.

If hiring for potential is so effective, what’s holding hiring managers back?

The most challenging thing about hiring for potential is detecting and quantifying soft skills. To adjust their hiring practices, companies must commit to fundamentally re-evaluating the processes they use to screen candidates. This could mean tweaking interviews, changing position requirements, or even implementing psychometric technology in the hiring process.

Either way, a changing economic landscape necessitates changing hiring priorities. Hiring for soft skills and potential success is the future.

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