Millennials have now officially surpassed the baby boomers as the largest living generation in America. Furthermore, particularly as the old guard retires, they’re becoming an increasingly dominant presence in the workforce.
As such, the internet is full of articles on how to deal with millennial employees, often suggesting rather elaborate ways to accommodate a generation that allegedly doesn’t understand the value of things like hard work or punctuality.
These essays are, of course, an exaggeration. There may be a bit of a generation gap, but most young people are perfectly willing to work hard and do the job they’ve been assigned. There is one perceived deficiency in particular, however, which continues to come up in articles, studies, and more. Do millennials really lack what’s known as “soft” business skills?
The Soft Skills Gap
In training someone for a new job, a gap in hard, or technical, skills is fairly easy to deal with. If someone lacks the knowledge to operate a particular software program or use a specific piece of equipment, any reasonably intelligent person can be shown the ropes by a more experienced worker.
On the other hand, soft skills are less tangible and thus more difficult to teach. Things like communication, proper etiquette when dealing with different types of people, problem solving and critical thinking skills are developed over a long period of time, often ingrained by doing the wrong thing first and learning from your mistakes.
There’s no room for this kind of learning curve in most jobs. Hard skills can be taught fairly quickly, but if an applicant lacks the basic soft skills that they need to do their work, it’s likely that they’re simply not a good fit for the position they’re applying for.
Millennials and Soft Skills
For many employers, the problem appears to be that an entire generation lacks the skills necessary to fill typical positions. A number of studies have concluded that millennials’ soft business skills are poor at best, if not non-existent. They’re unable to do things like understand written instructions or do basic math. Others have found that even the ability to use technology to solve problems is a trait that eludes the younger generation, despite their seemingly constant attachment to everything from TVs and gaming systems to mobile devices.
These studies, however, are generally based on older generations rating younger people on their soft skills performance. When millennials rate themselves or each other, they score much higher. Many are found to have great leadership and communication skills, as well as relationship building and more.
The Generational Skills Gap
The problem seems to be less a skills gap and more a generational one. Baby boomers can rate millennials on their etiquette in communication and interpersonal relationships, but the standards in those areas have changed over the last forty years. People in different age groups are bound to have different ideas of exactly what those things entail.
For one thing, the older generation tends to rate people solely on their ability to interact and communicate with people face to face, whereas millennials more often use their soft skills online first, getting in touch through e-mail or social media before arranging a phone call or in-person meeting.
The standards of business etiquette have always fluctuated over time, and as technology progresses, communication is changing as well. If you judge millennials’ soft business skills solely based on how things were done back in your day, you may be using the wrong metric.
Rather, you need to look to the future. Does this person have what it takes to interact with people and solve problems in today’s fast-paced technological environment? Will they be able to continue to do so as situations change and evolve? If so, then it’s likely that person has the soft skills to make it in their company for a long time to come.