By virtue of having been raised in the Information Age, Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation the world has ever seen. As a result, this growing portion of the workforce is drawn to STEM careers. Many boast a portfolio of hard technical skills that belie their young ages.
However, when it comes to soft skills, Millennials fall short, and it’s frustrating for employers. According to a recent McKinsey study, 40 percent of employers said they have difficulty filling vacancies because younger workers lack soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and punctuality. A PayScale survey found similar results, with managers highlighting leadership and ownership as skills that Millennials lack.
Soft skills are often ignored in the tech industry because there’s so much emphasis on keeping technical skills fresh, as well as completing massive projects on compressed schedules. But if younger workers can demonstrate an ability to communicate, lead, and collaborate with others, it can give them a leg up in the workplace.
So why are Millennials deficient in these skills, and how can they develop them? Here’s a deeper look at the issue.
Why Millennials Lack Soft Skills
The younger generation’s strength is partly to blame for its weakness. Because Millennials are so proficient and reliant on technology, many of them haven’t properly developed other skills apart from working on digital devices.
“With the advent of technology, you’re on your phone, you’re behind a screen, so you haven’t had to create those personal connections as other generations have,” said Jill Jacinto, a Millennial career expert. “Technology has transformed the workplace for good. It’s easier to communicate with people by connecting, but making that solid communication has become harder because you’re not doing it in person.”
Some studies have shown that social anxiety with face-to-face interaction increases with the amount of time spent online.
Beyond any technology-related causes, there may be a simpler factor involved: age. Danny Nelms, president of The Work Institute, suggests that every generation has struggled with soft skills early in their careers.
“I think we’ve begun stereotyping the Millennial generation without having any real empirical research that tells us there’s something unique about this particular generation,” Nelms said. “I think all young workers have had challenges related to soft skills. I don’t think Millennials are any different than any predecessor generation.”
The Role Companies Play in Developing Skills
Regardless of the reason young workers struggle with soft skills, companies have to deal with it. Addressing the skills shortfall in the workplace means tailoring training and development toward those needs.
Nelms thinks that companies need to develop their younger workers based on how they learn best. For example, Generation X workers are more comfortable with one-on-one coaching, while younger workers may desire to learn in group settings.
“It’s important that companies learn the efficacy of the approaches they’re using in order to actually develop soft skills within their younger workforce,” Nelms said. “The question is, how can we understand what those preferences of the younger workers are, and how can we develop training programs that are geared toward teaching the skills that they lack?”
How to Get an Edge with Soft Skills
So how do tech workers actually gain soft skills? One way is by exposing themselves to environments where they can utilize and develop those new skillsets.
Jacinto suggests joining professional organizations and attending networking events where you have to interact with others. You can check out organizations such as the Association of Information Technology Professionals, Women in Technology, IEEE, or a local networking group through Meetup.com. Getting involved in projects through these organizations also helps build teamwork, ownership, and communications skills.
Companies are looking for employees who are self-starters, so taking the initiative can go a long way toward demonstrating and developing soft skills. Whether it’s working on a side project, taking on a leadership role, or even speaking up in meetings, such self-motivation will show that you’re a well-rounded professional who’s not just limited to technical skills.
“It’s about constantly educating yourself, even on softer skills,” Jacinto said. “The best way to do this is through practice, and the hardest part is motivating yourself to make those changes.”