soft skills

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published on February 21, 2019 - 2:28 PM
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Among employers, one of the biggest challenges these days is hiring people with the skills needed to fill vacant jobs.

But workers aren’t just lacking in the skills you may think of right off the bat, Brenda Budke told a group of about 130 businesspeople – most from the Valley’s manufacturing industry – gathered recently at TorNino’s Banquet Hall in Fresno.

A lack of technical or software skills isn’t the biggest problem in hiring workers, which is surprising, considering how fast technology is changing and being incorporated into businesses, said Budke, executive director of Sierra HR Partners in Fresno, a provider of human resources services and consulting for businesses.

The gaps most cited in a recent survey of business executives across the country were “soft” skills, which Budke called “the four Cs” – communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.

This doesn’t refer to the ability to work with machinery or computers in a particular factory, but rather the ability to work well with and communicate well with co-workers, she explained to the audience.

As such, while some job applicants may look good on paper, “they don’t know how to work as a team, to collaborate to solve problems,” Budke told the crowd.

“Many problems in manufacturing can be traced back to failures in collaboration or communication,” she said in a separate interview, adding “Somebody could be technically brilliant but lacking those skills.”

Not that there aren’t gaps in technical and software skills among America’s workforce, but it tends to be less problematic than the soft skills gap, said Budke, citing the 2019 National Skills Gap Survey issued last month by Addeco, a global staffing company.

“With the unemployment rate still persistently high and the number of people looking for jobs picking up, you might think that finding your next quality hire will be easy. However, according to our recent poll of more than 500 senior executives, you might want to think again. That’s because there is a severe skills gap in the American workforce,” the report begins.

Among the findings:

– 92 percent of business leaders don’t think American workers are as skilled as they need to be.

– 44 percent of the executives surveyed said American workers lacking soft skills is their top concern, compared to 22 percent citing lack of technical skills, 14 percent saying they lack leadership skills and 12 percent saying they lack software skills.

– 30 percent of the executives saw manufacturing as most affected by the lack of job skills, compared to other industries, including finance, professional services, construction, health care, leisure and hospitality.

Budke noted that the statistics are national, so they don’t show whether the problem is worse or better in the Valley compared to the rest of the nation.

She did say the problem of people lacking soft skills tends to be worse among businesses hiring large numbers of part-time workers, because in the current, stronger job market, they are in demand more and more likely to quit for different jobs – often better-paying ones. And while they may be leaving with training to perform their jobs, Budke said not having been at a job long denies them opportunities to learn about a business and an industry, knowledge that would help them come up with ideas and solutions.

She was one of two keynote speakers invited to discuss the skills gap during the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board’s first Fresno Workforce Training Forum, intended to identify skills gap among workers so the Workforce Development Board could decide on how to divide its training funds.

The other keynote speaker was Chris Pitts, a talent supply solutions leader for Amazon, which opened a fulfillment center in Fresno last year, employing well over 1,500 people and about 500 more at a smaller, local distribution center in the city.

Speaking on what he has seen in the Valley’s skills gap through his current job and his previous ones, also involving personnel recruitment, Pitts said professional communication is a problem, and here in the Valley that often involves workers who cant speak or read English, or their English-language skills are limited. And that’s a particular safety concern, he said, “because [workplace] leaders communicate in English.”

He also shared Budke’s concerns, noting “As the workforce gets younger, yes, there is a focus on technical abilities, mathematics and those types of skills.”

And while Amazon is working to bridge those skill gaps – which includes tuition reimbursement for education and training, with some classes offered at jobsites – customer service and leadership skill training are important.

One of Amazon’s methods of promoting this is for company leaders to mentor workers under them, along with giving them opportunities to take on more responsibility during holiday and other peak seasons to learn skills that will help them advance.

He noted that before the fulfillment center opened, “Here in Fresno, it was not difficult to attract an entry-level warehouse employee,” and that has become even easier since the online giant raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in October.

But many of the leaders at the Fresno facility were transferred from other Amazon fulfillment centers, and now that many of them are leaving to help start other centers, a lot of the warehouse workers from the Fresno area who have attended school and been mentored will replace those leaders.

Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, who also spoke at Wednesday’s event, said bridging skill gaps is important, because a workforce largely lacking in skills is unlikely to attract businesses here.

For her part, Budke said a large number of employees want more training, mostly through online courses, but most would probably prefer training offered by employers, if more were available.

But while 89 percent of the executives involved in the Adecco survey said they believed more training and apprenticeships would go a long way bridging worker skills gaps, 42 percent said they believed such programs are lacking due to the costs of implementing them, while 30 percent said executive teams didn’t consider them a priority and 10 percent cited having insufficient staff to run such programs.

In addition, 18 percent of the executives said they believed employees wouldn’t be interested in such programs.

Budke said some of these problems could be overcome by companies offering at least some reimbursement for college classes and certificate training, rather than conducting the training themselves, as well as offering childcare assistance so workers with children can attend classes.

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