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How to bridge the soft skills gap in younger workers

When people think about apprenticeships/traineeships, they often only consider the practical skills needed to perform key tasks. But are they enough for your apprentice/trainee to be an effective member of your team?

If you’re training an apprentice, your priority is to make sure they are given the practical, trade-specific skills they need to do their jobs. However, it’s also in your best interests to teach apprentices the softer life skills – the desirable behaviours they need to demonstrate to become good teammates and productive workers. What are these – and how can you make this happen?

Some good workplace behaviours are relatively straightforward, like arriving on time and dressing appropriately. Others are more complex, and include:

  • Communicating well with others
  • Working well in teams
  • Creative thinking and problem solving
  • Analytical skills and critical thinking
  • Planning
  • Leadership and decision-making
  • Managing people and situations
  • Workload and self-management and multi-tasking
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Ethics and integrity.

Apprentices/trainees can't be expected to arrive with all these skills in place – they aren't a core part of the school curriculum. Millenials and Generation Z can sometimes struggle to adapt to certain aspects of working life. They can have different communication styles to their older colleagues and a different relationship with technology.

To work in any occupation, it is necessary to possess some “soft skills.” As apprentices are often new to the world of work, it’s important to help them develop their soft skills over time. This will help them gain a competitive edge and impact your team’s overall dynamic in a more positive way.

Learning hard vs. soft skills

There’s a subtle irony in learning hard skills vs. soft skills.

Hard skills are relatively easy to learn, while soft skills are often hard to learn. Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that include technical proficiencies. They are easily defined and measurable. Soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify. There is no certificate or degree for soft skills. They’re mostly learned through life experience on the job. They include active listening, interpersonal effectiveness, knowing how to recognise people, and demonstrating caring concern.

Sometimes we expect people to be born problem solvers and leaders because of their technical skills. However, hard skills are not a good indicator someone has the necessary soft skills.

Why soft skills matter in the workplace

Having the right technical skills and knowledge to successfully carry out your job is only one part of being the best you can be in the workplace. In addition to these hard skills, you need a good combination of soft skills to know how to work well with others. Being able to handle conflict, perform well under pressure and work as part of a team are all very valuable skills for any apprentice and future subcontractor.

How can trainers boost the soft skills of apprentices?

Here are some common-sense starting points:

  • Communicate, and relate
  • Set expectations about communication skills that apprentices will need to acquire
  • Start with clear communication and articulate speech and move up from there.
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