Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Skill sets in the 21st-century workplace

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 7:00 AM

If you were watching TVJ News recently, you would have seen a report discussing the fact that university graduates are having a difficult time finding employment after they have completed their studies.

Apart from the usual reasons, such as a stagnant economy and the resultant lack of available jobs, there is another, significant factor that must be considered: perhaps some of the graduates lack the skills that employers see as being necessary if one wants to remain employed and relevant in the workplace.

In Jamaica, attaining a degree or diploma, in multiples if possible, is regarded as being the ultimate goal of attending school. But in reality, a degree or diploma is only the beginning and is just one aspect of what employers are looking for. We must move away from the perception that having a degree or diploma in hand is all that is needed to get and keep a job.

In an informal, rapid assessment of Jamaican employers conducted by NEO Jamaica, it was found that when recruiting, the Jamaican private sector ranks soft skills such as communication, self-efficacy, personal responsibility, and teamwork at 40 per cent and cognitive or academic skills at 33 per cent.

In addition, the following three were cited as youth employee behaviours that can reduce productivity and thereby affect the ability to retain employment: tardiness and inappropriate communication with clients, i.e. poor customer service or communication skills; followed by use of mobile phones during work time or excessive socialisation; and absenteeism.

 

LACK SOFT SKILLS

 

Jamaica is not alone. In a 2012 Wages and Productivity Survey of all industries in The Bahamas, it was identified that youth are hired for their formal education attributes but fired for lacking soft or socio-emotional skill sets that enhance productivity and longevity on the job.

We often speak of our education system being able to prepare students to be globally competitive, and indeed, many of our youth aspire to work overseas. Therefore, it must be noted that employers in the United States and Europe, for example, also place a heavy focus on soft skills. A 1998 Survey of British Employers identified poor attitude, motivation, or personality as the single greatest recruitment challenge.

These skills that are highly sought after by employers around the world are known as soft skills or employability skills, and they can be broadly categorised as:

- Basic skills

- Thinking skills

- Personal quality skills (also known as socio-emotional skills)

Basic skills include punctuality, understanding that mobile phone and social media use must be limited while at work, knowing when to speak and when to listen, being respectful, being able to communicate effectively both orally and in the written word, basic mathematics (depending on the requirements of the job), and the ability to efficiently and correctly use information.

Thinking skills include problem solving, creative thinking, good decision making, leadership and negotiation skills, being able to reason analytically and critically, as well as being willing to learn on the job. Individuals with excellent thinking skills are able to see possibilities where others see only obstacles or roadblocks.

Personal-quality skills include being able to get along with your colleagues and working effectively in a team. This is key because most work within the workplace today is done in teams. Collaborative work has become more commonplace as teams become more global and diverse and the workplace becomes more virtual.

Other key personal-quality skills include avoiding unnecessary conflicts, learning to manage emotions, honesty and integrity, self-motivation, adequate self-management, being accountable and responsible for your actions, and having the ability to be flexible and adaptable in dealing with change.

As it is now, our education system does not place strong emphasis on the development of these skills. The role of secondary education in the formation and development of these skills is critical because they can develop late in adolescence and into the 20s. Therefore, schools, particularly secondary schools have the potential to make an impact on youth employability, and, by extension, youth employment, if greater emphasis is placed on these skills that are important to employers. Greater focus should also be placed on equipping our teaching professionals with the tools to properly impart these necessary life skills.

While parents and guardians have the primary responsibility of inculating these skills within the home environment, a partnership between the school and home is critical and can only serve to enhance the growth and development of our youth.

In the 21st-century workplace, soft skills matter now more than ever, and if we can develop these skills in our youth as early as possible, we will see more of our young people being able to lead successful and gratifying careers and lives in general.

- New Employment Opportunities for Youth (NEO) in Jamaica is part of the regional programme, which seeks to improve the human-capital quality and employability of one million vulnerable youth across Latin America and the Caribbean by 2022. NEO is being executed in Jamaica by Youth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE), a programme of The MultiCare Youth Foundation. Email: kareenc@icdgroup.net