As a talent development consultant, when contracted to develop “onboarding” or “new hire” programs for fresh-to-the-workforce hires, I’m most often asked to create learning experiences that will teach business communication, relationship management, conflict resolution, professionalism & etiquette, time management, research & analysis, listening skills, and solving problems as a team.

“They are intelligent, capable, and technically savvy,” one client said of his new sales hires, “but they show up not knowing how to behave and engage professionally in the workplace. They have to be told not to curse when speaking to clients, that ripped jeans are inappropriate work attire, and that e-mails need to be written in complete sentences. ”

Professional organizations and businesses alike are all lauding this new crop of employees as highly qualified, innovative, ambitious, and skilled; however, their shortcomings in soft skills are impeding their success in the workplace.

The Association for Talent Development research has noted that new millennial workers are missing diplomacy, communication, listening, patience, and relationship building skills. CIPD, the U.K.-based professional body for HR and People Development conducted a June 2015 research report with five organizations employing between 1000-150,000 people to explore the methods of developing 16-24 year olds in the workplace.

The 2015 CIPD report found that the top four skills requiring development in this age group were:

  1. ‘Working life’ skills – or work-readiness and professional behavior. This includes showing up on time, properly dressed, and conducting oneself in a manner fit for the environment.
  2. Self-awareness and confidence – many reported not having confidence due to lack of experience. One study interviewee shared: “In my first couple of weeks I’d be scared about picking up the phone. But now it doesn’t faze me; I just pick up the phone and approach people around me. It’s definitely a confidence thing.”
  3. Communication – establishing strong relationships is key to work success and yet first year study interviewees reflected back and noticed that when they arrived they had no idea how to speak to people appropriately and had to learn that.
  4. Commercial skills – often due to lack of experience in the real world, most new hires lacked the ability to think beyond being a technician and see the value they added to the organization. Prior to gaining more experience, they struggled to see situations from the client’s perspective.

What can be done to better prepare our students for the workforce? Soft skills development should be a focus from the beginning. Daniel Goleman, renowned psychologist and author of the 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, says that in order to adequately prepare students to enter the workforce, we must: promote self-regulation, teach time management, create a feedback culture, set up mentor programs, and train them. Yes, all of these things can be taught, and should be taught before graduates arrive at work.

I also believe these skills can be more effectively taught through more partnership between schools and employers. How better target future performance objectives than to ask employers what that future performance should look like? Educational models will need to adjust to be student-motivated, inquiry-based and experiential. That means employers may need to get more involved earlier on. Yes, they can provide training to new hires once they’re hired and already expected to perform; or they could partner with schools to create more apprenticeship, work to learn, and mentoring models for all students starting early in their education. This will provide students the opportunity to gain real-life experience early; and provide employers with confident, self-possessed new hires who are able to hit the ground running and immediately add value.


Goleman, D. (2015, September 13). Help Young Talent Develop a Professional Mindset [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Leadership Development for Millennials: Why It Matters. (2013) ASTD Research, 4(5). From Association for Talent Development Research – Formerly American Society for Training & Development.

Stuart, Ruth. (2015) Developing the Next Generation: Today’s Young People, Tomorrow’s Workforce. CIPD: Learning to Work Research Report. Retrieved from

By Published On: April 27th, 20160 Comments

About the Author: Ashley Patti