Millennials are educated. Millennials are credentialed. Millennials were raised on the very technological platforms that are driving organizational innovation and success. And yet, the statistics about their collective unemployment are staggering:

  • Millennials are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles.*
  • Currently, 18-29 year olds experience an unemployment rate of 8% compared to a more modest 3.7% for Americans over 29 years old.**
  • The struggle to find employment has left many young Americans out of the workforce entirely. The labor force participation rate for 18-29 year olds is 71%, the lowest it’s ever been, while over 1.8 million young adults have given up looking for a job.**
  • For the young adults who have been able to find work, 40% are underemployed, either working part-time jobs, contract jobs, or onetime gigs.***
  • For early Boomers in 1979, only 8% were living in poverty. For Millennials in 2013, the percentage of those living in poverty doubled to 16%. This observation holds true regardless of education attainment.****

If our Millennials are so educated and qualified, then why are they struggling to 1) get hired, 2) keep a job once they have it, and 3) enjoy their work experiences day-to-day?

This is a highly complex question, and there are obviously a lot of contributing factors to consider. And I’m not shortsighted enough to think that all Millennials are created equal OR have the same opportunities/access to resources that could impact these outcomes.

But, I have observed a consistent trend among my clients that leads me to believe that there is a significant puzzle piece that is being overlooked by many parents and educators.

Millennials are being taught to prioritize impressive GPAs, high test scores and unique credentials at the expense of developing utterly basic soft skills.

Soft skills are attributes that help determine how we approach our work and how we work with others. Many Millennials, and particularly those with great transcripts and resumés, fail to prioritize developing these skills, and are therefore at a disadvantage when it comes to getting hired, to being able to display resiliency when work gets tough and to enjoy the workplace environment. Without developing the softer, interpersonal and relationship-building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively, Millennials will struggle to build a sustainable career.

Soft skills are increasingly becoming the hard skills of today’s workforce. According to a recent poll, hard skills were equally important to 77% of employers, while 16% said they prized soft skills even more highly than the tangible talents that commonly pack a resumé.*****

Interestingly, these people skills are becoming increasingly valued by organizations at the exact same time that social media and educational platforms are hindering young people from developing them. Gone are the days of learning how to carry a spontaneous conversation when text and email offer the safety net of endless revising and editing. No longer are kids required to look someone in the eye while resolving conflict because it can all be handled online. Critical thinking is a thing of the past now that most answers are just one internet search away.

The bottom line is that academics are not enough. Fancy resumé builders are not enough. Awards and accolades are not enough. It is IMPERATIVE that we teach this generation the soft skills that are necessary for long term success.

Here are the top 8 soft skills Millennials need to be employable in today’s job market:

1. Communication Skills: An umbrella term for a variety of critical skills like active listening, asking strategic questions, presenting to groups, interviewing, effective body language, and more.

2. Collaboration: The ability to work in teams, relate to people and manage conflict. Personal accomplishments are important, but showing that you can work well with others is crucial.

3. Adaptability: Don’t underestimate the value of being flexible and open to change. In today’s technology-driven and rapidly evolving business environment, the ability to pick up on new technologies and adjust to changing business surroundings is essential.

4. Critical Thinking: With Google at the tip of your fingers, it’s easy to find answers to common issues. However, hiring organizations seek employees that are skilled at assessing situations, identifying options and making educated decisions.

5. Project Management: Organization, planning and time management are crucial to workplace success. In the past, this was a job in and of itself. Today, many companies aren’t hiring project managers because all employees are expected to have these skills.

6. Problem-solving: The ability to use creativity, reasoning, past experiences, information and available resources to resolve challenges quickly and effectively.

7. Work Ethic: Employers are looking for employees that take initiative, are reliable and can do the job correctly the first time. Employers don’t have the time or resources to babysit, so this is a skill that is expected from all employees.

8. Emotional Intelligence: Although you will most likely never see this in a job description, EI is a highly sought after skill that relates to your social skills, social awareness and self-management abilities. Understanding the nuances of social interactions, the needs of others and yourself are critical skills for building positive workplace relationships.

So how can you help your Millennial develop these skills?

1. TALK TO THEM. Text and email are great, but kids are struggling more and more with spontaneous conversation. Put the screens down and engage in meaningful dialogue.

2. EMBRACE VARIETY. Kids will never learn the soft skills they need by sitting at a desk in class all day, and then doing homework at a desk at home all night. Encouraging a variety of experiences, in a variety of environments, gives them the opportunity to practice everything from out-of-the-box thinking to managing different personality types.

3. LET THEM FAIL. Resilience and work ethic are often positive byproducts of failure. Don’t rob your kids of the opportunity to build these crucial skills by constantly rescuing them from challenging situations.

4. DRIVE SELF-AWARENESS. Help your Millennial to become cognizant of personal strengths and opportunities for growth. We can’t change something that we are not yet aware of, so highlight tangible examples in real time to improve the accuracy of their self-perceptions. Then, use that heightened self-awareness to set small goals for personal development.

Which soft skills do YOU think are most important and how do you support their development?? Let me know in the comments sections below!


* The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, PEW RES. CTR. (Feb. 2014), http://www.pewsocialtrends. org/files/2014/02/SDT-higher-ed-FINAL-02-11-2014.pdf.
** Stephen Kent, 1.8 Million Able-Bodied Young Americans Gave up Looking for Work Last Month, Generation Opportunity Millennial Jobs Rep. (Dec. 4, 2015), http://generationopportunity. org/press-release/1-8-million-ablez-bodied-young-americans-gave-up-looking-for-work-last-
*** Jason Abel, Richard Deitz and Yaquin Su, Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs? N.Y. Fed. Res. (2014), ci20-1.pdf.
****Comparing Millennials to Other Generations, Pew Res.Ctr. (March 19, 2015), available at http://!16.
*****Source: CareerBuilder (Survey of 2300-plus human resource professionals)
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