In some respects, graduates entering the workforce today seem incredibly well-prepared. They’ve learned how to tackle financial models, build marketing plans, and lead complex projects. And yet, they’re just not ready.
What they haven’t been taught – even at top-tier institutions – are vital soft skills like resilience, empathy and confidence.
In a recent McKinsey survey, 60 percent of employers said that new graduates were not adequately prepared for the world of work. Forty percent reported the main reason for entry-level job vacancies to be a lack of skills – notably, including in soft skills such as communication, teamwork, a love for learning and a willingness to take risks. These traits aren’t always listed as requirements in job postings, but they’re essential for success in the modern workplace.
I’m hardly the only CEO who feels this way. Last year, a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives showed that 92 percent consider soft skills to be as important as or more important than technical skills. At the same time, nearly as many CEOs reported that their companies find it very or somewhat difficult to find employees with these attributes – even looking across all age groups and experience levels.
Why soft skills matter
But just why are soft skills – human skills – so crucial? First, they’re adaptable. As the economy and technology continue to change in unpredictable ways, skills like confidence, resilience, and critical thinking will prove invaluable in helping workers succeed in the face of unexpected workplace demands.
Moreover, they’re the skills that are safest from automation. Entire industries are built on trust, and building trust still requires advanced social-emotional and interpersonal skills. Even as new technology comes into the workplace, the human element will remain not only vital but the exclusive domain of humans.
As the CEO of Tupperware Brands, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the impact of these soft skills first-hand, because our entire business is built on interpersonal relationships. Even as online sales rise, the Tupperware parties that have long been associated with our brand remain at the heart of our sales model, and our most reliable conversions still come from person-to-person demonstrations.
That’s not to say we’re not changing. New technology is critical to us, from both a sales and an R&D perspective, and our supply chain is evolving. But our three-million strong global sales force remains our single greatest asset. They serve as grassroots advertisers, brand advocates, and cultural ambassadors in new markets.
We can’t succeed without them, and they couldn’t succeed without their human touch.
Human potential leads to human prosperity
Given how vital we know these soft skills to be for our own brand, we’ve fostered them in various ways for decades. But more recently, we decided to take a more empirical approach: we partnered with Georgetown University to explore whether positive confidence cycles can have the same impact in other companies.
The Hard Value of Soft Skills report conducted in partnership with researchers at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, clearly illustrates that social and emotional skills – and in particular, confidence – is a strong driver of business and professional success. Most importantly, confidence can be systematically cultivated among workers, regardless of geography. Best of all, workers who are more confident also report increased productivity and an improved ability to overcome challenges.
The research did uncover that millennials clearly see confidence as a driver for workplace success (89%) but so do most other workers (86%). And this is true across gender, age and geography. That said, what is interesting is that the “Confidence Effect” is seen as something that goes beyond on-the-job experience or even years of experience. What most found empowering was that confidence was something that could be cultivated and is not something one is necessary born with or without. As someone who has spoken about the value of confidence over the years, I’ve seen that in some cultures and workplaces, confidence can be mistaken for arrogance. While both arrogance and confidence relate to holding a strong belief in one’s ability, arrogance is found in one who views themselves as superior to others, unwilling to admit mistakes, whereas one who is confident finds strength in not only admitting their mistakes but learning from them.
Our research further validated this belief. We found that organizations that give workers permission to fail, and promote this belief, had the ability to increase their employees’ confidence up to 30%. It’s also important to note that across gender, geographies and organizations, workers responded better to this pro-failure message when it was seen as integral part of the company culture rather than a message directed by a direct supervisor.
And while millennials might not see the immediate benefits of the Confidence Effect, our research shows building confidence boosts employee productivity and positively impacts results. This research underscores my rallying cry for other CEOs: do not ignore soft skills. Focus on building organizational cultures that both nurture the personal development of individuals and benefit the bottom line.
There’s no telling where technology will take us in the years to come. But I’m certain that no matter what new developments arise, innovation will never outpace the power of human potential. That’s why today’s leaders must focus on developing their most valuable resource – human capital.
Business leaders need to help workers to develop their full range of skills. Only then will we be able to close the gap between human capacity and capability, and turn human potential into human prosperity.
About the author:
Rick Goings is Chairman and CEO of Tupperware Brands Corporation. Throughout his career he has held a number of global senior management positions in Europe, Asia and the U.S. He is a Steward of the World Economic Forum’s Gender, Education and Work initiative and many other initiatives.