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'Soft' skills key to workplace and real-world success, report says
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Would-be employers assess positive personal traits the so-called soft skills and value them as much as technical prowess when making hiring decisions. - photo by Lois M. Collins
Being nice, working well with others and the ability to communicate may be as important for those entering the labor force as skills like math and science.

"When it comes to getting a job and succeeding in the workplace, more and more employers are making assessments of what are often called 'soft skills,' 'life skills,' 'employability skills' or 'social-emotional skills," said a just-released ChildTrends Trend Lines by research analyst Renee Ryberg.

While they're not test-measurable like math or reading, "a substantial consensus emerges around which skills are considered most useful for youth workforce success," she wrote. The list includes speaking and listening skills, interpersonal skills, higher-order thinking skills like problem solving and decision-making, and self-control. These qualities "rival academic or technical skills in their ability to predict employment and earnings, among other workforce outcomes," her report said.

Those same skills will come in handy, she noted, for other life tasks besides work, including forming relationships.

Finding the magic formula to conjure a job is serious business for teens and young adults. Marketplace recently reported than teen unemployment surpasses 24 percent, three times higher than the national average. The Marketplace piece referred to "jobstacles," the faux pas that hurt a kid's chance of landing work. Examples include ill-conceived voice mail greetings ("You know what to do, stupid!") to tacky personal email addresses and more.

It's even a tough market for recent college grads, though not as bad as the one faced by those with only a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, it paints a somewhat dim portrait of jobs for youths and young adults: "In July 2014, 51.9 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed, up from 50.7 percent a year earlier. (The month of July typically is the summertime peak in youth employment.) The labor force participation rate for all youths was 60.5 percent in July, the same as the July value in the prior two summers, but above the July low of 59.5 percent in 2011."

Youthful employment has been declining for a long time, and the July 2014 rate was a full 17 percentage points below the peak rate of 77.5 percent for that month in 1989, it said.

The summer labor force participation rate of youths has been declining for many years. The July 2014 participation rate was 17.0 percentage points below the peak rate for that month in 1989 (77.5 percent).

A survey of 750 managers published in March by Instructure, a software company, found many of them find it easier to hire people with strong interpersonal skills and then help them hone their technical skills than to do it the other way around.

"The data showed that managers place a higher emphasis on finding and hiring individuals with skills that are difficult or impossible to be taught," the company said in a written release. "When hiring, virtually all managers said attitude and work ethic are the most important consideration in choosing a candidate and 85 percent reported work ethic as the most important attribute for employee success. Meanwhile, 79 percent of managers said a candidate's prestigious schooling was the least important consideration."

"Most companies are hiring talent based on soft skills like attitude and hard work, with the hope that they can train them to be up to par on things like tech skills and industry knowledge," said Instructure's Davis Bell, vice president of corporate markets, in the written statement. "To do that, managers have to make sure their organizational training is on point."
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