The Most Important Skills Teens Need for Future Employment
In several recent surveys, employers have complained that entry-level workers lack the necessary “soft” skills needed for success in the workforce. Just to explain, “hard” skills are job-specific knowledge an employee needs to perform a certain job. Unlike hard skills, soft skills are not about the knowledge you possess but rather the behaviors you display in different situations or the way you interact with others. Examples of soft skills are good listening, teamwork, dependability, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and integrity. Soft skills are vitally important to employers because they ultimately determine whether you can serve their customers, work well with your co-workers and management, be a positive contributor to the team, become a leader, and effectively accomplish your work.
Soft skills are not ones that are taught in high school or college. Typically, they are interpersonal skill sets instilled by parents or learned through experience, such as on a part-time job. Unfortunately, in the last decade, part-time employment among adolescents has declined significantly at the same time that parenting has become more focused on protecting children instead of allowing them to make and learn from mistakes. Teens are not getting the experience they need, and as a result, are becoming unmarketable in today’s workforce.
To make your teen competitive in the job market, you should be aware of the types of skills that employers are looking for and work to ensure your teenagers have the chance to practice them. In addition to role modeling these traits and discussing the importance of these skills, you can also encourage your teen to gain experience by obtaining a part-time job, volunteering consistently at a local nonprofit, or taking a work readiness course in high school or at a community college.
The types of soft skills that employers desire are:
The number one soft skill that employers are seeking is good communication. In a 2018 survey by Morning Consult for Cengage, the most in-demand talent was listening skills. In fact, 74% of employers indicated this was a skill they valued. According to a 2010 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, good communication skills were ranked first among a job candidate’s “must-have” skills and qualities.
Communication covers a wide variety of skills including good listening, public speaking, writing, and conveying of ideas in a respectful way. Parents should teach youth how to properly follow directions, read with understanding, actively listen, speak and write in a way so that others can understand them, and ask for clarification when needed. (If you are unfamiliar with the term, “active listening” is when you spend time trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint or feelings, instead of thinking what you will say in response.)
As an example of how important these skills are consider the job interviewing process. Teens without good communication skills might enter a job interview looking at the ground, slouching, crossing their arms, and responding with one-word answers. An employer will be much more impressed with a candidate who makes eye contact, nods while listening, and fully answers a question.
Positive Work Ethic and Responsibility
Businesses value employees who are motivated to accomplish their tasks, follow-through on projects, abide by workplace policies, and demonstrate honesty and reliability. Workers who are able to take ownership of their tasks will get ahead of their co-workers who don’t. Employers are quick to fire employees that are consistently late or do not finish assignments.
You might hear an employer say they are looking for someone with enthusiasm or a positive attitude. This is because they believe this type of person will complete assigned tasks in an upbeat and cooperative manner, be willing to learn, work well with others, and take the initiative to offer help to customers. In fact, many employers would rather provide job skills training to an enthusiastic but inexperienced worker than hire someone with perfect qualifications but a less-than-positive attitude.
To learn how to develop the type of responsibility employers are seeking, please read our previous blog, 8 Ways to Instill Accountability in Teens.
Businesses want employees who work well with other people, contribute to groups with ideas and effort, can come to a decision with the group, and build relationships. Part of working well in a team is having a cooperative spirit, a healthy respect for different opinions and individuality, and an understanding that not every player on the team will have the primary role in leading the effort. When everyone in the workplace works together to accomplish goals, everyone benefits and achieves more. Teens can learn how to work in a team by playing team sports, joining clubs, or participating in group activities.
Businesses highly value professionalism in their workforce. A professional employee arrives on time, is respectful to others, dresses appropriately, looks neat and clean, and uses language and manners that are suitable for the workplace. If they are in a customer service role, the employee addresses customer needs and provides helpful, courteous service. A professional employee will use the Internet appropriately for work, not to check Facebook, play games, or look up where they are going this weekend. Finally, professionalism demands that the employee is aware of diversity and works well with all customers and coworkers, regardless of differences.
Conflict is inevitable in the workplace and really can’t be avoided. Employers want youth that are able to negotiate solutions to interpersonal and workplace issues. Diplomacy and courtesy to coworkers and customers is expected. Ignored or unresolved conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment or create withdrawal. A supervisor will most appreciate employees that try to understand the other person’s perspective and negotiate conflicts in a way that will help the other person best achieve their goals. Employers like someone who can listen to someone else’s differing viewpoint, avoid attacking the person or placing blame, ask the right kind of questions to get to the issue, and offer creative solutions. To learn how to teach your teen to resolve conflicts in a healthy way, please read our previous blog, The Right Way to Argue.
Employers want youth to be able to work through problems on their own. When a young person feels confident in their ability to problem solve, they will not shy away from great opportunities simply because they feel intimidated. Ideal employees can think critically and creatively, contribute ideas, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment, and make decisions. Employers expect their employees to be able to use solid reasoning to accomplish their tasks and to be able to determine the best type of information technology to use in their work. Ideally, an employee should be able to understand his or her role in fulfilling the mission of the workplace. Problem solving skills are learned with practice – parents must allow their children the opportunity to deal with their own problems. Offer guidance, but allow your child the satisfaction of figuring it out for themselves. It may be hard to watch, but tackling a problem independently can give your child confidence to take on even more difficult tasks. To learn more about how to instill these skills, please read our previous blog, Teaching Problem Solving Skills.
Successful people are able to learn on their own. There is no school or parent that can possibly teach a child everything they will ever have to know. If, instead, we develop in our youth the ability to teach themselves anything, then we don’t need to teach them everything, because they can learn it themselves when the need arises. The best way to teach yourself is to ask questions. Many parents unwittingly discourage questions from their children – perhaps you feel like your child asks too many questions or asks them at a bad time or seems to be questioning your reasoning. When you feel this way, take a deep breath. Try to shift your perspective to realize their questions are allowing them to self-educate. Work to raise a self-learner by encouraging curiosity and exploration, sharing self-learning opportunities, and making it easy for teens to get access to educational materials that interest them.
No one is good at predicting the future, and technically, we have no idea what the world has in store for us. The world is constantly changing, and the workplace is no different. While layoffs, new bosses, or changing roles can feel intimidating, employees who can roll with the punches tend to come out on top. The best way to prepare our teens for an unpredictable world is to role model and teach them to adapt and deal with change. Developing the ability to flow with the shifting landscape of our lives reduces fear and helps us to embrace new opportunities that weren’t available before. You should let your children know that part of the excitement in life is when things turn out differently than we expect.
If you take the time to instill some of these “soft” skills in your teens now, they will be well on the road to success in their future.