On October 22, Phi Beta Lambda (PBL), the business and leadership organization on campus hosted Helen Mountjoy who talked to 68 students about what the main “soft skills” employers are looking for. Helen Mountjoy, an Owensboro resident, has previously served as secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, worked with the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, and has served on the Kentucky Board of Education, chairing that body from 1998 to 2004.
The term “soft skills” refers to a cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes, and social graces that make someone a good employee and compatible to work with. Companies value soft skills because research suggests and experience shows that they can be just as important an indicator of job performance as hard skills.
PBL President Sara Fleischmann introduced Ms. Mountjoy and explained why she thought it was important to bring in such a speaker. “The vice president of the Chamber of Commerce spoke with me at a networking event about how many students are lacking in soft skills. I was unsure about what that meant and how I could develop them, so I thought it was important to have someone share their knowledge about them,” she said.
Mountjoy went on to explain which areas in particular employers think prospective employees are lacking.
“Communication,” she said, is the largest area in which employers said new hires are lacking. “Students that enter the work force have trouble understanding commutating means talking as well as listening. The number one complaint about students entering workforce with a degree is that they don’t listen,” she said. “The ways that we communicate with each other becomes increasingly important in the workforce,” she finished.
The next area of soft skills that she mentioned was teamwork. “You have to have the ability to function effectively as part of a team. You need to be able to pull own weight and accept responsibility for what happens in the workplace,” she stated. “Now work is not done individually; now work is done in teams. Getting along with people is extremely important,” she continued. “ You must come to terms with biases that you might not even want to admit to having,” she advised.
Problem solving and critical thinking came next. Mountjoy explained this meant “bringing to bear all of the information you are given and your experiences to solve a problem.” She continued, “employers expect people to come to the work place to assume responsibility and solve the problem. You must use the skills you have to look at the problem and assess how difficult and how important the problem is, what ramifications are, and then find a solution.”
The next very important section was about enthusiasm and attitude. “Employers don’t just want people who will come to work everyday,” she stated bluntly. “You are expected to give an honest days work for an honest days pay. That means turning your attention to the work that is there for you to do.” she explained. “You should pitch in when something needs to be done, even when it isn’t in your job description. This also means understanding what goal of group, business, employer, and seeing where you can make a difference,” she said. “If you just went to work and loved everything you did, they wouldn’t need to pay you. You have to be willing to do even the jobs that you don’t want to do,” she pointed out.
The last area that she addressed was professionalism. “This means when you show up for work everyday, on time, and you are dressed appropriately for your job,” she explained. “You are expected not to hang out and gossip. Treat those you work with to respect and dignity. Be accountable and be productive. Deal with diversity and adversity,” she continued. “To be successful, you must learn to get along with everyone you work with regardless of any other circumstances,” she finished.
Vice President of PBL Stephanie Pearson was very pleased with the event. “The event went great, and there was huge turnout—so large that we almost didn’t fit into the room. I thought it was very important to learn about these skills because employers looks for skills beyond just knowledge and what you learn in the classroom,” she concluded.