Can “Soft Skills” be Taught?


SHRM, in collaboration with Mercer and funded by the Joyce Foundation, recently released a study on entry-level applicant job skills. The research reveals that, according to HR professionals, the “soft skills” most important for new entrants to the workforce are dependability/reliability, integrity and respect. Looking ahead to the next three to five years, adaptability, initiative and critical thinking are expected to rise to the top. SHRM’s research on skills for the 21st century indicates that for entry-level positions employers are looking for candidates with basic skills upon which trainable job skills can be built. If a new employee is highly dependable, then a big hurdle is overcome, and the on-the-job skills can be taught. But is it possible to teach traits such as dependability/reliability, integrity, adaptability and initiative? 
The reality is that acquiring the right talent is tough. More than two-thirds of HR professionals reported difficulty recruiting candidates for full-time positions in their organization, according to SHRM’s The New Talent Landscape: Recruiting Difficulty and Skills Shortages report. HR professionals from nine industries were surveyed on a range of recruiting and skills issues to get a better understanding of the current talent market. The findings reveal that many HR professionals are experiencing a more challenging recruiting environment compared with previous years. HR professionals also report skills shortages among the job candidates applying for open positions: More than half of respondents report some level of basic skills/knowledge deficits (e.g., written English, basic computer skills, basic math and science), and 84% report applied skills shortages (e.g., critical thinking, professionalism, leadership) in job applicants in the last year. When asked about the most effective approach to fill the skills gaps, HR professionals said it would be training existing employees to take on hard-to-fill roles. 
Can “soft skills” be taught by the education system, academic mentors or employers? Organizations are saying these skills are important, but can workers, whether new or experienced, be taught dependability/reliability, integrity, adaptability or initiative? If so, what are the best ways to teach “soft skills” to current and future employees?
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