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In mid-August 2018, unemployment in the UK stood at a record low of just 4%, with the proportion of young people who are unemployed and not in full-time education also at a record low of 4.7%. It led the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, to say, “With the unemployment rate falling further to just 4%, and youth unemployment down over 45% since 2010, school leavers this week can look forward to a growing jobs market, improving the prospects for their future careers.”

That sounds great, but there are also more than 10 million UK workers over the age of 50. It’s a record, and over 250,000 have joined the workforce just in the past year. Whilst they have reasons for re-joining the job market (financial pressure, a desire to be useful etc.), they’re being welcomed with open arms: top companies across many sectors like Barclays, Aviva and Boots aim to increase the number of over-50s they employ. The reason is clear: it’s specifically because of their people skills and focus on customer service.

And the ‘oldies’ might be at something of an advantage. The retail giant, McDonalds, recently conducted a survey across the US, which found that soft skills like teamwork, customer service and the ability to take responsibility for outcomes were seen as much more important than hard or technical skills, by both employers and potential employees – 88% of respondents rated the opportunity to develop soft skills “important” in a job opportunity. Furthermore, younger respondents to the survey were acutely aware of this, recognising that soft skills in the early part of their career would most effectively position them for success.

McDonald’s USA Chief People Officer, Melissa Kersey, says that employers “should re-examine which skills matter most, especially for the next generation entering the workforce. We should lay that foundation for employees to build the soft skills they need that will serve them throughout their career.”

Which soft skills matter most in any one context will depend on industry, sector and role, but another survey at the beginning of 2018 by HR software provider iCIMS suggests that the top five to nurture are:

  • Problem solving: yes Google is omnipresent, but it’s no substitute for rational thinking and quick-wittedness!
  • Adaptability: for most of us, change is the new normal: tomorrow won’t necessarily be like today. High-performers relish the challenge.
  • Time Management: it ought to be a given that employees show the courtesy to manage their time properly. But it doesn’t always happen, and it’s therefore a respected commodity.
  • Organisation: everything from managing information, synthesizing complexity and juggling priorities effectively.
  • Oral Communication: the ability to speak in public, engage effectively with new people, and to rub along well with colleagues.

The interesting thing from McDonald’s’ research, of course, is that the restauranteur sees it very much as their job to provide these essential workplace skills.

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