Companies Struggling To Find College Graduates with Soft Skills, According to Study

Careers
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on March 4, 2016 at 11:51 am
Companies Struggling To Find College Graduates with Soft Skills, According to Study

Unemployment is at an eight-year low, and employers of all stripes are slugging it out for top talent. But even for entry-level positions, companies are having a tough time finding good recruits. One of the main reasons: many candidates lack basic soft skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, according to new research from Adecco Staffing USA.

After surveying 536 C-level executives at companies around the country, Adecco found that the toughest skills to recruit for are the ones you would expect most college graduates to have. However, many are striking out when it comes to the ability to think critically and solve problems.

“With the national unemployment rate at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent, the pool of qualified job applicants is shallow,” says Amy Glaser, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing USA. “The skills gap is unlikely to close in the near future.”

According to Adecco’s survey, 80 percent of respondents said the skills gap is real, with more than half saying it is the biggest human resources challenge today.  Indeed, for Patricia Sweeney, human resource manager at Old Colony Hospice and Palliative Care, applicants lacking basic communication skills is a common occurrence – one she said can be blamed partly on college career counselors.

“Resumes I have received are frequently so poorly assembled, spelling is terrible and the ability to develop a cohesive sentence is frequently lacking. Rarely do I receive a cover letter, although I always ask for one. In one instance, a candidate asked what I meant by a ‘cover letter,’” says Sweeney.  “This is where I believe college career counselors are failing students. Some counselors have not kept up with trends in job searching skills and rely on staid formats and practices.” It doesn’t help that the way students learn at the high school level has moved away from critical thinking and more toward standardized tests. Subjects that could develop and harness critical thinking and problem-solving are being phased out in favor of exams, she says.

Employers raising the bar for entry-level workers

While students may not be getting critical thinking and problem-solving skills in high school – something that is carrying over to college and when they enter the workforce – employers have also raised the bar in many cases. “Because people don’t stay at jobs, they expect students to be ready from day one,” says Rya Conrad-Bradshaw, vice president and managing director at Fullbridge US. “They don’t expect to be able to train someone for a certain number of years. It’s changed what the expectations of college graduates are.”

When it comes to how companies are addressing this shortage of candidates with essential skills, it varies depending on how bad they need to fill the position. Sweeney says in areas where there is a large labor pool, companies are simply skipping over candidates that lack the skills. In other instances, if they find a talented candidate who lacks some soft skills, they may be willing to overlook that. In areas where there are job shortages, Glaser says hiring managers are realizing it’s important to invest in job training to help employees with those skills. Indeed, according to Adecco’s survey 48 percent of companies said they increased critical skill training. In addition, companies are changing their recruiting strategies, seeking candidates out instead of waiting for them to find the company. “In many cases, finding fresh talent involves partnering with schools and universities to create programs that ensure students will have the skills they need to succeed when they graduate and enter the workforce,” says Glaser.

Graduates have to gain the necessary soft-skills

So – how can students overcome this lack of soft skills that employers so desperately need? If their college or university offers it, there are  workplace courses like Fullbridge that provide undergraduates with the necessary skills to actually get a good paying job. Internships are another way to get on-the-job training, as well as see how critical skills and problem-solving can be used in the workplace. There are also online groups and courses where graduates can pick up these soft skills.

Students and graduates should also prepare ahead of any interviews and even when applying for jobs. That means crafting a typo-free resume, creating a cover letter that highlights both their hard and soft skills, and knowing how to use keywords when searching for a job. Graduates also need to learn about the company they are interviewing with and the industry they are aiming to land a job in. “Going into an interview without knowledge of the organization and its current status (growing, undergoing change, e.g.) will not bode well,” says Sweeney. “There is no lack of resources available to research any industry or specific company or organization.”

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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