This is a guest post by Jaime Rodríguez Santiago.
Over the last decade, numerous researchers have emphasized the critical need for twenty-first century employees to possess soft skills.
Soft skills include effective communication, the ability to work within a team, interpersonal skills, an appreciation for diversity, honesty, integrity and ethics. Regardless of the business sector, proficiency in soft skills is important for success, as confirmed in a recent paper by Mitchell, Skinner & White (2010). However, researchers such as Wilhelm (2004) have reported that employers find entry-level employees are deficient in these skills. Glenn (2008) concurred and concluded that “even though new hires posses exceptional information technology skills, the same individuals severely lack soft skills”.
Poor economic development in recent years has affected employment opportunities for millions of workers worldwide. Outsourcing, downsizing, plant closings', mergers, acquisitions and other cost-cutting measures that businesses practice are at the root of these cuts. Timm (2005) agreed that “the employment shift that America faces requites employees to provide more personal interaction with customers than ever before; consequently, possessing only traditional technical skills will not be adequate in the new global marketplace”.
In the context of Mitchell, Pritchett & Skinner’s paper defines soft skills as “personal qualities, attributes, or the level of commitment of a person that set him or her apart from other individuals who may have similar skills and experience” (Perreault, 2004).
Many studies have confirmed that possessing these kinds of skills are crucial for high-performing organizations to “retain a competitive edge” and define entry-level success in the workplace, despite surveys indicating that recent college graduates continue to enter the workforce without these skills.
Potential candidates seeking employement must ensure that their skills match the skills needed by employers and develop those that are still insufficiently developed, in order to advance effectively in the workplace. Traditional mediocrity will no longer be accepted for employees in today’s society, as Timm (2005) exposes. Furthermore, without the crucial viable skills that distinguish an individual from other employees, “it may be difficult for him or her to earn a secure living”.
Diversity also plays a significant role in the global business world. The challenges of “working across multiple cultures, respecting social values and norms of others, and seeking to understand other perspectives” are all barriers that employee’s face and must overcome. Students should be made aware of the demographics of today’s global market place, as well as the future trends of multiculturalism.
On the other hand, the current call for ethics education is also extremely pronounced. The high profile ethical failures of businesses prevalent in today’s news create the possibility of alienating students from careers in business.
Mitchell, Pritchett & Skinner conducted a quantitative research study by “surveying MBA students enrolled in two graduate Managerial Communications courses at one university in southeastern United States”. The research intended to determine “the degree to which selected graduate students perceive the importance of soft skills in the workforce” and the degree in which the same students perceive an improvement of their soft skills upon the completion of the Managerial Communications course.
A scale was used for analysis of the perception which ranged from one, Not Important to six, Extremely Important. The research question included the following skills: General Communication Skills, Oral Communication Skills, Written Communication Skills, General Ethics, Diversity, Teamwork Skills, Time Management/Organization Skills, Problem Solving/Critical Thinking Skills, Customer Service Skills, Leadership Skills, and Business Etiquette.
The results were straightforward: 11 out of 11 soft skills were reported by respondents as being toward the extremely important end of the scale (between five and six).
However, when the students were asked to what degree they perceived an improvement in their soft skills in relation to having completed the Managerial Communications course, all of the soft skills mentioned above obtained a median of two in a scale where 1. stands for Not Improved, 2. Somewhat Improved and 3. Very Much Improved.
Mitchell, G. W., Pritchett, C. C., & Skinner, L. B. (2013). The Importance of the Integration of Soft Skills into the Curriculum as Identified by MBA Students. Academy Of Business Research Journal, 167-81.