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Stop parenting employees; seek and train for ‘soft skills’

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in Hiring,Human Resources

Ever feel like a surrogate parent with certain young, entry-level workers? You're not alone.

Nearly 70 percent of manufacturers say basic "soft" skills are the top deficiency in hourly workers and applicants, according to the National Association of Manufac-turers (NAM). Those skills include punctuality, attendance, communication, taking instructions, work ethic and getting along with co-workers.

Such education isn't coming from schools. Most high schoolers don't receive the real-world career counseling they need, according to a Ferris State University study.

And many workers who entered the job pool during the Internet boom felt no pressure to develop soft skills. Reason: Talent alone kept them moving ahead.

Advice: Build those basic skills and values into your hiring, orientation and training. Your goal is to attract applicants that fit into your company culture, then follow up with the right incentives to drive your message home.

The payoff: People with strong soft skills are more productive and remain on the job longer.

Use these three no-cost strategies:

1. Pose work-related scenarios to applicants. It's easier to measure applicants' technical (or "hard") skills than soft skills. Gauge soft skills by asking job candidates to envision themselves in work situations.

Example: "You're not going to finish your work before closing time. What do you do?" Good answer: He or she will stay after hours to finish. Better answer: The worker will alert the appropriate people that he or she won't meet the deadline but will give them a time when he or she will finish. (For more sample questions, see box below.)

Notice how applicants speak. Do they use a lot of slang? Do they interrupt? Is that how you want them to communicate with customers and co-workers?

2. Use the 'buddy system' with employees. Once you have a new worker on board, emphasize on-the-job orientation right away. Pair the worker with a mentor who can help the new employee learn what's expected in the workplace. The "buddy" can act as a support person to help coach the new worker in juggling work and personal issues.

3. Employ tricks to encourage behaviors you seek. Match spot incentives and small rewards with life-skills success, such as giving employees alarm clocks as incentives for timeliness.

Online Resources:

Developing employee skills

One-Stop Career Centers, the federal government's network of employment, education and training services, at and click on "Employers."

National Association of Workforce Development Professionals at

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