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People grow People. Developing people skills in your graduates

Posted by David Smith

David Smith

In September I’ll have been in the world of work for about 15 years. Thinking back, I’m not sure University could have ever prepared me for what I was about to do. Work is a bit like life in general I suppose, the hardest challenges are unlikely to be the technical ones. The things that make or break most of us are in many cases harder to master. For instance, our ability to be resilient, to make relationships, to get people to believe in us and our approaches, to communicate in the right way at the right time. I’ve worked with people that have had an appreciation for this, and many that haven’t. I know how they’ve made me feel and how much I’ve wanted to produce for them in return. To me, much of this is in the essence of what makes a company so great. I think we’d all agree that the development of skills like these should be a priority.

I learnt most of this stuff in a pretty unstructured and informal way. From day one in my first job I had to make an impression, talk to people from different walks of life, and start to engage with customers. I was in at the deep end, furiously treading water and nothing I’d studied at University was helping me.

Leaders tell us that these ‘soft skills’ are essential to the future success of their business and 90% tell us that these skills are lacking in their job applicants. So if they’re important yet missing from the current jobs market, we owe it to ourselves to develop these skills in our current and future workforce.

This will take time and investment. The first step might be in changing the perception of soft skills in the workplace. Our research suggests that 70% of graduates believe they only need to be good at their job to succeed. More than half say that people skills actually get in the way of their ability to do the job. Then we may need to consider our on-boarding processes. 80% of employers say it takes longer than three months to develop people skills yet over half provide their graduate intake with just a 3-month on-boarding programme. Clearly so much of what we learn is through doing the job itself but until our people receive focused development in these areas we’ll be adopting the same ‘sink or swim’ approaches that are so unpredictable for our businesses and unsettling for our people.

When I look back over the last 15 years I think I’ve been pretty lucky. Although I’ve received very little structured training on these essential ‘soft skills’, I’ve worked for some great leaders who have demonstrated many things I’ve chosen to copy! Every day though I face a new challenge that tests me. Companies have a great responsibility to the people they employ. If they focus on their social and emotional competence as well as their technical skills they’ll not only create better business results but they’ll create masses of great people too. What could be more rewarding than that?


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