CareerSource rolling out soft–skills training program to meet employer demand

By Ken Datzman, Brevard Business News

ROCKLEDGE — Employers are becoming increasingly concerned about job candidates’ lack of foundational “soft skills,” at a time when millions of openings at companies continue to go unfilled. In fact, the demand for people with soft skills in the workplace is growing as fast as the demand for those with science, technology,engineering, and mathematics skills.

Soft skills — such as professional communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and time management, for example — are highly valued by employers across business sectors.The importance of these skills is widely acknowledged, yet for the most part they are not taught with any consistency or given prioritization.

The assumption might be that people already have these skills,that they were acquired early in life. But surveys and research show this skill set is in great demand in the workforce. People skills, which have become rusty in an age of social media where there is less face–to–face contact, are more important than ever as organizations and businesses are challenged to find meaningful ways to remain competitive and be productive.

“Employers in the region are telling us that soft skills are the number–one factor for success in the workplace,” said Foy Staley, CareerSource Brevard’s program manager for the organization’s newly awarded grant that addresses soft–skills training through workshops and online learning. “Soft skills are intangible qualities but play a very important role in the success of a company. And there is a huge need for soft–skills training, not only in the local market but also around the nation. We are hoping to help a lot of employers and employees.”

CareerSource Brevard, teaming with national vendor World wide Interactive Network Inc., or WIN, is rolling out a credential ed training program that focuses on four key soft–skill areas: Conveying Professionalism, Communicating Effectively, Promoting Teamwork and Collaboration, and Thinking Critically and Solving Problems.

The modules are in–depth in each of the four areas. For instance,the Communicating Effectively module identifies ways to improve communication and listening skills for a productive work environment, explains the importance of spoken communication to improve understanding, and assesses the use of communication tools, including email etiquette, cellphone use, and social networking. And CareerSource Brevard will be tracking and measuring the success of the soft–skills program with area employers.

“This program has been in the works for a year. We’re excited,” said Staley, who has a dual master’s degree inhuman resource management and management and leadership from Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and has broad experience in training and development.

The WIN Soft Skills Training initiative just got underway, with classes offered every other week. The purpose of the grant award is to provide soft–skills training to 500 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act adult and dislocated eligible worker participants in the region.President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act into law in 2014. It is designed to help job–seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.

CareerSource Brevard customers have the option of doing the program all online, and accessing it anywhere,or they can choose a blended approach. The latter combines online learning with “The Essentials Workshop,”which is an interactive classroom setting with a facilitator,said Staley.The training is offered at the three CareerSource Brevard centers, in Titusville, Rockledge, and Palm Bay.Classes are conducted every other week, Monday–Thursday, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the three sites. To learn more about eligibility and the program in general, call Staley at 394–0513 or Amanda McCarthy at394–0631. McCarthy is a customer solution representative.

The April schedule is posted at–soft–skills.

In a national survey conducted online by Harris Pollon behalf of CareerBuilder, the majority of employers —77 percent — believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills, such as operating a computer program.

A recent “Wall Street Journal” survey found that89 percent of business leaders have “a very difficult time”finding employees with soft skills.

With almost 6 million jobs unfilled in the U.S., it is clear that the soft–skills gap is only compounding the recruiting challenge for corporations and businesses.

Burning Glass Technologies, an analytics software company that identifies workplace skills gaps, has found that one in every three skills requested by employers is a“baseline or soft skill,” such as communicating, being detail–oriented, or working well with others.

“In every sector of business there is a soft–skills need, whether it’s communications, time–management,professionalism, or critical thinking,” said Staley.

In sales careers, for example, it’s not surprising that the most sought–after soft skill is the ability to communicate, followed by customer service, organizational skills,writing, and the ability to build effective relationships,which round out the top five, according to a Burning Glass survey.

Overall, the rise in consumerism and the value companies now place on customer service is increasingly evident in the digital world and human strengths are more valued than ever before.

More than half of companies surveyed by Manpower Group say communication skills — written and verbal — are their most valued soft skill followed by collaboration and problem–solving.

“I think employers across the board are eager and anxious to close the skills gap, and I believe this is the perfect time for CareerSource Brevard to take the lead in the area and provide a soft–skills training program to help them,” said Staley.

She added, “CareerSource Brevard has always had a finger on the pulse when it comes to the community and its employers and employees. For years, we have ad-dressed in various workshops critical soft skills like interviewing and resume building, which have been valuable for the participants.”

“Now, with this new grant we are offering a credentialed certification that employers will recognize —one that shows value and has meaning. I believe job–seekers will want this credential on their resume and we’re convinced that employers, as well as human–resource professionals, will start looking for it on applications,” she added.

Employers will benefit in important ways from having employees earn the Essential Soft Skills credential. It will help them reduce costly turnover, improve productivity and maximize on–the–job training. With this credential,employees are more likely to work in teams to achieve mutual goals and objectives, demonstrate willingness to work, show initiative and display responsive behaviors at work, including avoiding absenteeism and demonstrating promptness, according to WIN research.

After a “rigorous selection process,” CareerSource Brevard partnered with WIN Soft Skills, a national e–learning soft–skills training program designed for career–seekers and employers.

“The selection process of the vendor included evaluations and feedback from various Brevard County human resource management organizations. Laurie Davis,president of the Space Coast Human Resource Association, and Karen Gathercole, president of the South Brevard Society for Human Resource Management, have been extremely receptive to supporting the soft–skills training program.”

Staley continued, “Having their endorsement raises the value of the program and provides a credentialed certificate for the career–seeker. The local HR professionals worked all day at their regular jobs, then did the training modules at home and gave us their feedback. It came down to three vendors. We also received immediate positive feedback from our own staff at CareerSource Brevard, who will be working directly with the career–seekers as well. They also did the modules and their input was instrumental, too.”

Staley said CareerSource Brevard is “committed to collaborating with Brevard County employers to improve hiring results and increase retention rates.”

According to the National Soft Skills Association,employers are “consistently” looking for that “human connection.” Sixty–percent of employers complain that job applicants lack interpersonal and communication skills. Another 93 percent of employers care more about “critical thinking, communication and problem–solving skills than an undergraduate concentration.”

“There is an overall feeling — not just generally speaking but specifically through the sector–strategy efforts of CareerSource Brevard and from all the information from consortiums — that the message is loud and clear: current employees, new hires, and potential hires need soft–skills training. That’s based on employer feedback and feedback from HR professionals,” she said.

Her organization works closely with employers in various sectors, including manufacturing, health care and information technology, providing training and other customized programs for the workforce.

Tina Berger, one of the sector–strategy managers at CareerSource Brevard “listened to the voices and concerns of our industries and was proactive in researching soft skills, authoring the grant, and driving the goals, one of which is to get 500 eligible career–seekers through this soft–skills training program, which is competency–based and credentialed, in a year’s time,” said Staley, whose organization is affiliated with CareerSource Florida in Tallahassee.

CareerSource Brevard’s one–year “Community–Based Training/Soft Skills Grant” is for $267,969.

“There are many training programs out there, but I think this one is going to distinguish itself,” said Staley.“We are going to follow up with employers to measure the success of the training we’re providing. It’s going to be abig undertaking for CareerSource Brevard, considering we’re targeting 500 people for this program.”

“We will be tracking and monitoring the new hires once they are placed. I will be following up with our partners —the employers — seeing if the soft–skills training is working. We will be checking in with them on the assessments at 30 days, 60 days and 90 days. I think the follow–up part is very important,” added Staley.

She said CareerSource Brevard will not only be measuring the return–on–investment, but also the return–on–learning for the soft–skills training program.“We share in the effort to reduce turnover and to increase retention,” she said.

The average cost–per–hire is $4,129, according to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management.

In terms of employee retention, the average employee tenure is eight years, the annual turnover rate is 19 per-cent and the involuntary turnover rate is 8 percent.

The report analyzed statistics collected from the organization’s “Human Capital Benchmarking Survey” in 2016, the last available survey results. The survey of 2,048respondents measured employment, retirement, compensation, employer–paid tuition, and other people metrics.

Staley said with the current program in place and workshops underway, “we may very well see different soft–skill needs or different levels for populations that could open up something new for next year, perhaps another grant for more individualized training along those lines. We’re excited about helping employers close the soft–skills gap in their workforces.”

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