The Skills Employers Want, But Can’t Get

Technical Skills are Strong, but Social Intelligence Lacking in Young Employees

Today’s graduates from colleges, universities and post-graduate programs might appear to be more prepared than ever.  They have specialized functional skills, technological savvy and a global worldview that surpasses previous generations.  But they often lack the skills that actually are the most important for workplace success:  Social Intelligence.

BusinessWeek has been tracking the performance of business executives and business education since 1988.  Their analysis uses input from corporate hiring professionals, MBA alumni, MBA students and other data.  And while much of the attention is focused on the rank of specific business schools, their Skills Gap Analysis is much more interesting.  In particular they identify several skills that employers say are “highly-sought” but hard to find.  And the top of that list is “communication skills” which is rated more important than analytical thinking, collaboration skills or strategic thinking.

Why is Social Intelligence Important to Younger Employees?

It seems reasonable that functional skills and job-specific capabilities would be more important to younger workers than social or communication skills.  Younger workers typically don’t lead teams and don’t have people management experience. At least, not yet.  But even with these individual contributors, the ability to create personal connections and communicate well is crucial. This is borne out by recent research from LinkedIn, which surveyed approximately 4,000 professionals globally.[i] Across the board, these respondents said the most important priority for talent development is training for soft skills. “As technology accelerates, soft skills are in high demand to fuel people and business growth.”

“Today’s organizations are less hierarchical and less structured,” says Dr. Casey Mulqueen, TRACOM’s Senior Director of Learning & Development.  “Employees who collaborate, work effectively in uncertainty and handle change with resilience are simply more effective and valuable to organizations.  Of course functional skills are important, but many people have those and their shelf-life doesn’t last long.  It’s the person who layers social intelligence on top of functional ability that excels.”

And younger employees with Social Intelligence are in the best position to have a long-term impact as they move throughout their extended careers.

Even Google Admits SI Beats AI

Few companies are as technology-focused as Google.  But the company has done two studies of its performance that reinforce the value of Social Intelligence.  Project Oxygen was a study of 15 years of hiring, firing and promotion data at the company.  They found that of the eight important skills of top employees, soft skills such as communication, coaching and empathy were all more important than technology skills, critical thinking or problem solving. Remember, this is Google we’re talking about.

Digging into the issue further with Project Aristotle, Google looked at the characteristics of their best-performing teams.  This study found that the best teams at Google exhibit specific soft skills such as empathy, equality and emotional intelligence.  Teams with these skills – even when populated with non-stars – generated better ideas and outcomes than teams comprised of technical superstars.

“This research reinforces what other research has been showing for decades,” says Dr. Mulqueen. “Teams with ‘psychological safety’ consistently outperform other teams, and the reason for this is because they emphasize good communication, awareness of individuals’ needs, and relationships.”

Implications for Hiring and Training

So if the importance of Social Intelligence is clear, what does that mean for HR professionals responsible for hiring or developing employees?   Recruiting potential employees with these skills is appealing, but as the BusinessWeek study points out, that is easier said than done.

So, even if you’re hiring a large-percentage of your workforce straight out of school or experiencing high-turnover, developing Social Intelligence among your existing workforce is the best option. TRACOM clients often do this as part of an employee onboarding process.  SOCIAL STYLE training or Behavioral EQ training during employees’ early months provides these crucial individual skills and supports organizational culture through common vocabulary and capability.  As a vice president of a large hospitality company said:  “SOCIAL STYLE is a great program to set a global language and global process that goes across our properties.”

Likewise, giving younger employees the tools to be more resilient in the face of stress, and strategies for creating change through innovation, will propel their effectiveness and engagement. There is no shelf-life to Social Intelligence; once learned, these skills last forever.

Soft Skills Relevant in a Global, Virtual World

The value of Social Intelligence skills grows even as business simultaneously becomes more global and more virtual.  Whether your people work with people face-to-face, around-the-world or purely through computers and smartphones; you’ll find Social Intelligence improves productivity. And because Social Intelligence training addresses how people think, act and react, it’s valuable to all your employees from new recruits to your C-suite.


[i] LinkedIn Learning. 2018 Workplace Learning Report: The Rise and Responsibility of Talent Development in the New Labor Market. Downloaded at

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