8 NOVEMBER, 2017


As a parent of school-age children, I find myself reassured by information that has been seeping into public consciousness for some time – that soft skills are what employers look for over and above everything else.

When I leave home to catch the bus in the mornings, I wonder whether the occupants of the Teslas and Mercedes-Benz that speed past me to deliver children to one of the most expensive private schools in the country (close to where I live) aren’t wasting their money.

Certainly, the latest research from online platform JobGetter may make uncomfortable reading for these parents, as it supports data suggesting competitive academic scores don’t cut it anymore. Instead, employers are shifting their focus towards candidates whose skills will allow them to work most effectively and adapt to the changing world around them.

Penguin Random House and major consulting firms Ernst & Young (EY) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are just three big companies to have stated openly that they no longer require university degrees in their search for good candidates. Instead, they want to recruit newcomers who have a broad range of life and education skills and experiences.

Required skills in 2030

JobGetter’s 2017 Soft Skills in Demand report supports the recent findings that two-thirds of all jobs will be soft skill intensive by 2030, as detailed in the Deloitte Access Economics and DeakinCo. Soft skills for business success report.

So what are those ‘in-demand’ soft skills

1.    Communication
2.    Friendly/Approachable
3.    Self-motivated/Ambitious
4.    Driven by outcomes
5.    Positive and enthusiastic

Catherine Friday, education leader of EY Oceania, explains the shift away from academic qualifications.

“We used to consider academic scores as the first ‘threshold’ a candidate needed to pass, but we’re now enforcing a more interpersonal hiring practice that allows candidates to demonstrate their networking, leadership and communication skills in an interview scenario much earlier on in the process,” says Friday.

“In fact, I’ve noticed that those who’ve come to EY after a ‘gap year’ or period of industry experience tend to have well-developed soft skills and are far more mature and poised in our working environment.”

Cultural, not generational

Paul Fiumara, a partner at Brisbane accounting firm DFK Hirn Newey, tells a similar story. Though he was frustrated by the calibre of Gen Y university graduates, he told news.com.au that he didn’t blame the students.

“I think it’s a failure of the system that universities are just pushing people out without having some practical experience along the way,” he says.

“Students often come out of their university time having done presentations and various things that make them think they can function in the workforce, but it’s quite a different world. What you think you’re doing in universities [is not] what you find in practice.”

DFK’s solution has been to offer cadetships to train first-year university students. “They’re cheaper than a graduate, so it just makes sense for us as a business, too,” says Fiumara.

Though programs like DFK’s run parallel to a university course, some employers are ditching qualification expectations altogether.

Interestingly, those crucial communication skills, the ability to get on with people and self-motivation, may be lacking due to the fact that society has become more affluent. Kate Carnell, while she was CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that she thinks it’s a problem that school children are not doing part-time work as much as they used to while at school.

While it offers young people the luxury of focusing on their studies, coming from a comfortable background also deprives them of skills they would’ve picked up in the workforce before taking up a full-time role. It isn’t helped by parents encouraging their children not to work but focus on their studies exclusively.

If Carnell is right, it may be that the kids sitting in the rear of those Teslas and Mercedes Benz are the ones who are really disadvantaged.

This article was first published on www.hrmonline.com.au