Employers Value Soft Skills

Employers have been reporting a decline in the overall level of soft job skills in the state’s workforce, particularly among those in their teens and 20s. The Idaho Department of Labor office recently held a seminar on soft skills at its Pocatello office in response.

“The goal was for those currently working and job seekers to gain a better understanding of what soft skills are and what they could do to improve their own marketability,” workforce consultant Beth Larson said.

Often referred to as an employee’s work ethic, soft skills refer to a cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee and compatible to work with according to Kate Lorenz of careerbuilder.com.

Whether a worker has good soft skills can make or break a career. Employers value soft skills because research and the past experience have shown that workers with these traits generally perform well.  For many companies and career paths, good soft skills are just as critical, if not more so, than hard skills gained from education and training.

Soft skills are developed in youth and improved during working life. The first lessons in soft skills come at home, then at school and later when young people work their first jobs.

soft skills tableThe gap in soft skills may be linked to the last recession when many older, experienced workers had to take the part-time, entry level jobs traditionally held by young workers.

These older workers found themselves with no recourse. Laid off from full-time jobs they had held for years but not financially able to retire yet, they needed work to ride out the recession in hopes their retirement investments would rebound in value.

Valuing experience, employers often chose older workers with a proven track record to take their part-time jobs, cutting off young workers from a critical training ground.

There were also fewer jobs available in industries which traditionally have provided part-time employment to young people.

Idaho car washes and full-service restaurants, a typical source of youth employment, posted significant drops in employment between 2006 and 2009. Another source of jobs, movie theaters, also declined 3 percent. Perhaps most importantly the retail sector, which hires many young workers, saw jobs fall 5 percent as the economy slowed.

soft skills graph

Some employment opportunities open to young people managed to keep their job levels steady between 2006 and 2009. Limited-service restaurants were among them as consumers left full-service eateries for fast food in search for lower-cost options during the downturn.

Idaho’s economy continues to recover, and there are many more job opportunities for young workers now. But job seekers may want to take a hard look at their soft skills. If deficient, they could take steps to acquire better soft skills to compete in the job market.

Dan.Cravens@labor.idaho.gov,
Regional Economist (208) 236-6710 ext. 3713