Improving soft skills among digital natives

digital natives
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In today’s business environment, the most successful organisations will be those who can bridge the soft skills gap in a digitally driven talent pool.

Today’s young workforce has so much to offer. Whether fresh out of school or college, having gained experience through an apprenticeship, or recently graduated in a specialist field - the talent pool is brimming with knowledge, drive and ambition. Despite this, there is an apparent soft skills gap within this group.

This generation has had constant access to tablets and smart phones throughout their formative years, and as a result they tend to prioritise digital communication and engagement above face-to-face interaction.

This can be advantageous when these candidates secure relevant, technical roles - such as ‘data scientist’ or ‘cloud computing specialist’. Even then, there is still a requirement for all employees to be equipped with a range of softer skills, such as conversing and collaborating with colleagues, handling customer or client queries, and taking direction from their superiors.

The digital era

Technology has and continues to transform the way we live and work. In recent years, the way our businesses operate has changed drastically (largely for the better) but with digitisation happening at such an accelerated rate, many businesses have witnessed the growth of a ‘hard’ skills gap within the digital field.

In a bid to keep pace with their industry and close this gap, business leaders have created a range of new roles and are now desperately seeking new candidates with specific technical expertise.

Many of these new roles are well suited to the young, digitally minded workforce, but in prioritising this specialist knowledge we risk losing out on the more traditional qualities and may further widen the soft skills gap.

Importance of soft skills

Some of the most important soft skills a candidate or employee should possess, in my opinion, are: communication, problem solving, flexibility, and teamwork. These skills facilitate human interaction, help people build relationships and often assist them in creating opportunities for advancement.

A well-trained recruitment professional will do a better job than any software at reviewing an application.

To put it simply, a person can have all the technical knowledge (hard skills) in the world, but if their soft skills are not up to scratch they are less likely to be offered opportunities for career progression, or create them for themselves.

Closing the gap

Addressing the issue starts at the recruitment stage. Hiring managers and recruiters now have a wealth of technologies available to help sift through CVs and applications, but these can only identify the best candidates based on their hard skills.

I am a strong advocate of the human element, and believe that a well-trained recruitment professional will do a better job than any software at reviewing an application and getting a true feel for a candidate, their personality and their suitability for a company or role.

At the interview stage, we must not forget to observe and assess a candidate’s soft skills as much as we evaluate their technical knowledge. At Sellick Partnership, this is embedded within our interview structure, to ensure equal weight is given to both types of skills and to assist recruiters in achieving a well-rounded view of a person’s skills and suitability.

Mentorship is key

The business leaders of today have a responsibility to nurture and boost the soft skills of their young workforce, to ensure the future success of their companies. After all, this generation will be the succeeding leaders of said businesses.

It will be those who can flexibly apply their hard and soft skills to meet, and exceed, their responsibilities who will carve the most successful careers.

It is a good idea to partner any new digitally focused candidate with a team member who possesses the relevant soft skills they want to nurture in a new employee. This will also help a business align its multi-generational workforce, whilst promoting understanding and collaboration across the board.  

Listen and learn

There is no denying that the young, digitally focused workforce possesses a wealth of skills that a company may be severely lacking, so whilst mentoring them to improve their soft skills, it is important their expertise is utilised in the right way.

Whether a role has been newly created, or it has existed for some time, the person who has been hired to fulfill that role has most likely been selected because the hiring manager felt that nobody already at the company had the skills or experience that met the criteria.

With this in mind, it is essential that their peers and superiors listen to and learn from the knowledge the new employee possesses.

Flexible approach

Previously, transformation and digitisation took months or years, but today it happens in days or even hours. With the workplace and work styles changing at an unprecedented pace, businesses and individuals must be flexible in their approach to be successful.

By encouraging regular feedback from all parties, a business can ensure flexibility in responding to any particular successes or pain points to encourage continual improvement. For individuals, it will be those who can flexibly apply their hard and soft skills to meet, and exceed, their responsibilities who will carve the most successful careers for themselves.  

Interested in learning more about soft skills? Read Soft skills: how to teach the missing basics to today's young talent

About Jo Sellick

Jo Sellick

Jo Sellick is the Managing Director of professional services recruitment specialist Sellick Partnership. Since forming in 2002, Sellick Partnership has gone from strength to strength as one of the most respected specialist recruitment agencies in the UK. In 2017 the business celebrated 15 years since Jo set up the firm with just a laptop and a mobile phone. Now the business employs over 85 staff, has seven offices nationwide and has an annual turnover of over £38 million.

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