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Why Today’s New Workers Lack Soft Skills

by Warren Wright, Founder and CEO of Second Wave Learning and author of “Second Wave Millennials: Tapping the Potential of America’s Youth” 

Every twenty years or so, a major shift occurs in workplaces around the world shaped by the powerful combination of technology and culture. Employers are beginning to experience this shift right now. Fresh out of school, brand new hires are re-writing the way they communicate and use technology, and it is perplexing the generation before them.

To get a clearer view on this phenomenon, we can drop in on the day-to-day experiences of the students in the classrooms of high school and college.

In their book “Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber“, two veteran public school teachers in the United States document this emerging behavior on what it means to communicate and use technology. The authors’ premise is that technology overuse makes kids dumber, but there are some deeper nuances to these direct observations that are starting to play out in the workplace.

The Changing Brain and Soft Skill Gap.

As youth grow into adults and start entering the workplace, basic life skills like face-to-face communication has not been in their repertoire. Nor is making phone calls or even email.  Much of these forms of communication are being replaced by messaging on platforms that encourage short, bit-sized usage.

In his book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains“, Nicholas Carr makes a case that adolescents’ increased interaction with technology is actually changing the neuroplasticity of their brain. The problem is compounded as multinational companies like Snap and Epic Games (developer of Fortnight) identify ways to keep youth addicted to their devices. All of this takes this new generation, which I call Second-Wave Millennials, away from the development of those necessary interpersonal skills.

These are soft skills, and they are critical to life and work. Life throws curve balls, and soft skills help you navigate them. In the workplace, it is said that hard skills get you hired, but soft skills get you fired.

The Perfect Storm.

There are two reasons Second-Wave Millennials seem to lack the interpersonal skills they need to succeed in the workplace: one has to do with technology as we’ve discussed, but the other reason has to do with the shifting parenting style of the GenX parent. Together they’re making a perfect storm for a soft-skill crisis in the workplace.

Gen X parents (aka the “lawnmower parents”) have mowed down all obstacles and perfected the path their kids must follow in order to get good grades, high test scores and access to the best colleges. Their kids’ schedules are so packed — particularly with academics — that there is little room for anything else. This makes for a very high-achieving (and highly stressed) child, but along this path, life skills and soft skills are put on the back burner.

There is no “free time,” and on the weekends young people are being tutored or participating in scheduled sports instead of having a job that requires them to communicate with people on day-to-day challenges of work and life. When Second-Wave Millennials do have free time, they usually spend it in front of a screen, and this is the second reason they are lacking soft skills. More time in front of a screen means less time in front of people.

Getting Them Up to Speed in the Workplace.

Often, corporate training departments are not set up to train in basic soft skills, and there is a feeling of resentment among older generations about these new hires coming in without this knowledge. In fact, many employers I spoke with that never faced such challenges have raised alarms. Some workplaces are relying on an emerging field of consulting called Adulting, that teaches Millennials life skills like changing a tire, balancing a checkbook, and frying an egg.

In the meantime, as a leader of these Second-Wave Millennials, you can fall back on good old fashioned management, starting with frequent constructive feedback and helping them develop the key elements of soft skills including business writing, presentation skills, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and problem solving.

The great news is that Second-Wave Millennials are excellent students. They’ve had a lot of practice, and truly appreciate opportunities to develop their skills.

 

Author of “Second Wave Millennials: Tapping the Potential of America’s Youth” Warren Wright is Founder and CEO of Second Wave Learning, a consultancy that helps companies attract and retain new hires in the Millennial generation. Their signature program, Slay the Job, teaches soft skills, emotional intelligence, and generational dynamics in order to create more intention and awareness among all employees. He keynotes frequently at conferences, corporate events and companies about the impact of generations in the workplace and society at large.

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