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From buzz words to application

Most employers can readily identify certain key attributes that they hope their staff members possess. We often interview job candidates based on what they can do, known as hard skills. But we should never overlook the kind of underlying skills considered as “soft.”

Soft skills can be described as those that enhance a person’s interactions and job performance.

My research and experience training workforce and education professionals have consistently reinforced that this topic is one of the most commonly requested and well received. It addresses this question: what are employers looking for in hiring new staff and developing their existing staff?

Typically, these soft skills will be included near the top of the list: communication, enthusiasm, attitude, teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and professionalism. In thinking about some of your employees, do you see check marks or “needs improvement” for those skills?

Soft skills originate from various “shapers” in an individual’s life, such as culture, upbringing and values. Those skills remain transferable from job title to title and from one employer to the next.

In the United States, certain “skill gaps” have been recognized by employers who are adamant about bridging them. These will be discussed further below. In Costa Rica, additional struggles may relate to cultural differences, language interpretation, accepted standards and differences in expectations. For example, “pura vida” does not mean, “I don’t care.”

Employers can recognize such soft skill gaps and begin to train their staff accordingly. It’s a process that takes time and effort.

The payoff is having a solid workforce committed to the job and dedicated to providing quality customer service. Soft skills are visible to the public when interacting with your staff, so it’s an issue worth reckoning with for optimal results.

What about school kids?

Working with educators, I used a different approach for soft skills training. I asked teachers what disciplines are required for students to obtain a good education? In an open workshop forum with hundreds of participants, they began yelling out responses as I frantically wrote them on a large board up front. I listed their answers in a column centered between two others in the middle. Then I uncovered the third column beside it with the heading “Employer’s Top 10.”

As the workshop participants watched, I connected the words on their list to the employer’s list with a marker. The teachers were in awe. The very same soft skills required by employers were mirrored by the list for students in school!

We then worked on ways for teachers to assist their students in recognizing and developing those soft skills. Most importantly, we agreed how important it is to help students understand that these skills are required in today’s business world.

Roots of soft skills

Up to this point in these educator workshops, my first column on the board remained covered. Ultimately I asked, “where do soft skills begin?” In every workshop, the participants pondered that question but very few words were spoken. Then I would uncover the first column on the board. At the top in bold letters was the heading “CHORES.”

This was when participants realized the crucial birth stage of soft skills begins in the home. With parents proactively engaging with their children in this diminishing task, key soft skills are developed that kids will utilize for the rest of their lives.

I would then provide information with links to age-appropriate home chores that teachers could suggest in their letters to parents. The introductory wording would be: “Do you want to develop your child’s soft skills to obtain a better education and be a good employee?”

Now, what parents would not want that for their children?

Think about it

As you think back on your own life, consider these questions. What chores did you do? What did they teach you? How did they transfer to school? How are you using today those skills that were fashioned from childhood on?

When it comes to soft skills, I’m always happy to provide information links for parents, educators and employers alike. It’s a vast subject with so many factors.

So parents — start shaping your children early on about responsibility, finishing tasks as assigned, working together and commitment. Your kids’ teachers will appreciate it!

Educators — identify and help your students develop their soft skills.

Employers — the same concept applies. Identify, develop and set the standard with training for your employees to achieve.

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