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  • Writer's pictureGena Martine

Soft Skills are Hard to Find

Over the summer I came across more and more articles about young people entering the workforce at a distinct disadvantage. The potential weakness in question was not in the areas of education or intelligence. It was what is now commonly referred to as soft skills, and what many of us would call social or interpersonal skills. Repercussions from pandemic lockdowns, remote learning and the increasing lack of focus on respectful behavior in many schools and universities has robbed many young people of invaluable life experience necessary to succeed in various walks of life.

One article published in the Wall Street Journal was entitled, “New Grads Have No Idea How to Behave in the Office”.1 “Recent graduates might be great at accounting or coding,” author Lindsay Ellis writes, “but they need a little help when it comes to dinner parties and dress codes.” According to the article, KPMG announced they will provide training for new full-time hires that includes, “the basics of talking in person - as simple as how to introduce yourself to [someone]. Key tips include maintaining eye contact, taking pauses and avoiding jargon.” Also included are listening skills. “The company has found that some young professionals are stiff, talk too fast, or rely too much on filler words like “um.”

It is certainly a win-win for companies to offer such coaching. But it is a tall order to think that someone can suddenly become adept at the subtleties of unspoken communication and social awareness.

“We tend to think that hard skills are the must-haves and soft skills are the nice-to-haves. But the pace of technology has reversed this,” a recent Forbes article by Anna Kowal Smith proclaims. “Soft skills are tougher to define, harder to teach and learn, and require a much more customized approach. But the payoff is immense. Technical skills and expertise become obsolete much more rapidly, while soft skills grow with you throughout your entire career—relevant, transferable, and valuable.”2 I would add that they grow not just over your career, but over your lifetime - in all walks of life.

According to Rohan Rajiv, Director of Product Management at LinkedIn, “Foundational soft skills have become even more important given the rise of remote and autonomous work, and are growing in importance across industries, levels and work environments.”3

“Technical skills constantly change, but soft skills remain with you throughout your career,” writes Forbes contributor Caroline Castrillon. “That’s because they are relevant, transferable and keep an individual highly employable. In addition, soft skills are desirable because if you already have them, your employer doesn’t have to train you on them. As a result, you can more easily hit the ground running and make valuable contributions.”3 In other words, you get a head start.

Of course, soft skills are valuable long before college or careers are on the horizon. In fact, every facet of life that includes at least one other person requires them.

At Cotillion, these are the very skills that our young members begin to practice in the 3rd grade. Dressed for success in their respectful suits and finery (following a dress code), learning the fine art of conversation (listening skills, facial expressions, overcoming awkwardness), building awareness of how they impact those around them (personal responsibility, empathy, body language), and always encouraged to have a positive impact as they collaborate together to learn and practice excellent manners. Think how much of an advantage they have, and how comfortable and confident they feel, after six seasons of consistent practice. Practice that is never virtual and always in person.

We are often told by our graduates that that they feel light-years ahead of many of their peers when they reach college. While I greatly appreciate their gratitude (as do parents who finally receive a “Thank you for making me go to Cotillion!”), I also feel sympathy for the young adults who did not have the opportunity to be so well prepared. But I also know that many of our graduates do their best to help their peers learn the skills they know so well (leadership). And after the effort their parents went through to get them to Cotillion all those years ago, that’s a lovely way to pay it forward.


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