“Social interaction has—at least so far—proven difficult to automate.”

– David Autor, Professor of Economics, MIT

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb recently unveiled the five pillars of his Next Level Indiana agenda, which include strengthen the state’s workforce between now and 2025 to “take [it] to the next level.”

(Given that the mayors of Indianapolis and Fishers just announced their partnership in a bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, the next-level workforce may be needed sooner rather than later.)

One piece of the Governor’s plan is a Workforce Ready Grant that will cover tuition costs for Hoosiers participating in training programs for:

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Building & Construction
  • Health Sciences
  • Information Technology & Business Services
  • Transportation & Logistics

With this training, the State of Indiana contends that Hoosier workers will have what it takes to fill these higher-paying, in-demand jobs. But will they be able to keep them?

That’s where soft skills come in
Training programs—like school assessment tests—only measure how well someone has learned the material as it was taught. Those high scores might look good on a resume, but they won’t predict how well someone will do once they are in the job.

Countless researchers, including the two cited at the top of this blog post, contend that it’s the soft skills that really matter in the long run. How well can you communicate—and more importantly, listen? How do you conduct yourself in a professional setting? Can you work independently and as part of a team? Do you know how to motivate those around you?

In a recent survey about tech hiring and retention, four important soft skills stood out:

  1. Ability to work collaboratively in a team setting. As much as they may like to, tech professionals can’t just hide out in their code. They have to work well with teams across the business in order for the company to run smoothly. Despite the IT stereotype, tech pros with strong conflict resolution and mediation skills will be the most successful.
  2. Creative problem solving skills. The technology industry changes quickly, and what you learned in college may be obsolete before you graduate. Creative thinking, in addition to technical knowledge, results in the kind of innovation that creates competitive advantages.
  3. Excellent communications skills. I work in the communications industry, so it goes without saying that I believe wholeheartedly in this one. Our jobs at Well Done involve explaining complex ideas in ways that everyone can understand. It is equally important for tech workers to be able to discuss the business implications of a technology problem or new solution in a way that resonates in the C-suite.
  4. Leadership skills. Strong leaders must be so much more than subject matter experts. They have to know how to motivate people and when to step in to solve the problem, when to push and when to cajole, and how to settle disputes and when to let them settle themselves.

While this particular survey was specific to the tech industry, these kinds of soft skills are important no matter where you work. Which is why I hope they will be included in any curriculum that seeks to build the “21st Century Workforce.”

Soft skills can be taught
Well Done was recently introduce to one workforce development program that is doing it right. TeenWorks is a nonprofit organization where teens become self-sufficient adults through summer employment, financial and computer literacy programs, AND year-round building of leadership, work, and life skills.

In full disclosure, TeenWorks is a new Well Done client. But several of us also volunteer for them. Most recently, four of us volunteered to conduct mock interviews with third- and fourth-year TeenWorks students. The rubric we used to measure their success included points for eye contact, a firm handshake, good posture, speaking clearly, and the ability to demonstrate transferable skills.

In other words, it wasn’t enough to memorize the answers to some online interview-prep course. These teens were taught to communicate and interact. Given some of the interviews I’ve been in during my career, it was very refreshing.

Before you think all this soft skill stuff is just fluff, try this experiment. Ask your staff—or friends or kids—if they would prefer to order a pizza in person, over the phone, or online. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by how many choose the path of least interaction.