• StratEDgy

    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.


But wait - there's more!

Recently there's been more support for the need for - and payoff from - having schools focus more on the 'soft skills.'

October 18, 2015

During the summer I wrote post entitled, What Skills Do Employers Want Most?, that generated some traffic and discussion. Since that time, there’s been more support for the need for – and payoff from – having schools focus more on the ‘soft skills,’ including a recent New York Times article that notes, just like in kindergarten, the most important factor for success in the world of work may be whether one “plays well with others.”   

In August 2015, David Deming, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, published an interesting paper titled, “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market.” The gist is summed up nicely in the abstract:

“The slow growth of high-paying jobs in the U.S. since 2000 and rapid advances in computer technology have sparked fears that human labor will eventually be rendered obsolete. Yet while computers perform cognitive tasks of rapidly increasing complexity, simple human interaction has proven difficult to automate. In this paper I show that the labor market increasingly rewards social skills. Since 1980, jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater relative growth throughout the wage distribution. Moreover, employment and wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill.”

The New York Times article on Deming’s research, noted:

“Preschool classrooms, Mr. Deming said, look a lot like the modern work world. Children move from art projects to science experiments to the playground in small groups, and their most important skills are sharing and negotiating with others. But that soon ends, replaced by lecture-style teaching of hard skills, with less peer interaction. Work, meanwhile, has become more like preschool.”

Business school alumni understand the importance of soft skills and want more training in these areas. According to the 2015 GMAC Alumni Perspectives Survey, “The skills in which alumni wish they had received more education or training while enrolled in their graduate business program can be classified into six areas – strategic/analytical thinking, data reasoning, communications, technical skills, human capital management, and career management.”  Of the six skill areas on the alumni list, the desire for more communication skills and human capital management expertise is relatively high across all graduation years – and highest among those that are self-employed and in the C-Suite.

In the 2015 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, the top five critical factors employers consider when they select candidates to interview are:

  1. Proven ability to perform (92%)
  2. Strong oral communication skills (89%)
  3. Strong technical an/or quantitative skills (84%)
  4. History of increased job responsibility (62%)
  5. Strong writing skills (56%)


Interesting that strong oral communication skills trump strong technical and/or quantitative skills, and that two of the five top skills would be considered ‘soft skills,’ since many business schools spend the majority of their core curriculum teaching the ‘hard’ skills. Proven ability to perform, which tops the list of what recruiters consider important, is likely to include a large dose of soft skills, too. 


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