When placing the skills gap in terms of millennials, the general consensus is that many come bounding into employment, having secured impressive grades and the time management skills gained from regular essay deadlines 

While the former is quantifiable, the latter, as a "soft skill", is harder to measure in concrete terms. These types of skills are essential for all employees to grasp, but it takes a tailored recruitment strategy to give candidates the chance to prove them.

The unquantifiability of soft skills is not the only issue. Candidates' perceptions of soft skills often differ to employers' expectations. According to the 2016 Annual Survey by the AGR (now known as the ISE), 50% of employers are training new hires on managing up. Only 4% of employers believe candidates already have this skill - and this is just one example.

Milkround's research reaffirms the existence of this soft skills gap, but from student and graduate perspectives. Our annual survey of over 5,000 candidates revealed that only 23% of respondents believe that employers consider managing up a hugely important skill to have. Therefore, it seems this gap exists because candidates are prioritising different skills to their potential employers. Of course, when it comes specifically to managing up, candidates are also less likely to have had a great deal of experience with this, compared to other soft skills. This potentially explains the employer focus on training. There is still low confidence when it comes to students and graduates self-assessing their soft skills: a mere 16% of our respondents believe they can problem solve, and only 14% think they are self-aware and possess interpersonal skills.

These findings imply that it's not necessarily the case that young people don't possess these skills, but they perhaps lack the ability to articulate these in the way employers are looking for.

This problem also exists in the school leaver market. Employers are often surprised by the fact that many apprentices miss the mark when it comes to apparently simple tasks. This may include poor time keeping, anything from not prioritising tasks and leaving them unfinished to simply not being able to turn up to work on time. Another common error is completing a task and not actively seeking out another project to occupy themselves. Here lies a difference in expectation between apprentice and employer. This kind of working may be explained by how the individual works in school, perhaps how much they are encouraged to exceed expectations, versus meeting them.

Clearly, it's difficult to truly pinpoint why it is that some candidates seem to be lacking in certain soft skills, although it certainly seems it's not simply that they're underprepared for the world of work. It's more likely that they prioritise their skills differently to their employers, or generally lack confidence in their skills altogether. A well-rounded recruitment process aids not only the assessment of soft skills, but the development of them.

How can we simultaneously assess and encourage candidates' soft skills?

While age certainly shouldn't act as an excuse for poor quality of work, employers must remember that candidates' - whether school leavers or graduates - existence has largely been made up of education. School, college and university are their main sources of knowledge, both in factual and behavioural terms.

Showcase your working environment "outside of work"

Insight days are a great offering for students because not only do they give them a taste of company culture and the actual office space, they also get to hone their skills for the application process. Milkround have partnered with employers in the past to provide events like these - our most recent included workshops,

Question and Answer panels and skill-building exercises. How well a candidate engages and works with new people says a lot about them. Offering a day of insight, rather than one purely of assessment is more likely to reveal true talent, as nerves are less likely to have an impact.

Set a pre-interview task

Creating a challenge in advance of an interview allows the candidate to prove their soft skills in a more concrete way, perhaps by making a presentation or case study. While always keeping in mind the lack of commercial awareness a candidate will have (beyond their own online research), set a task with the expectation of preparation you would require from an employee.

Learning depends on feedback

If you can take the time to pass along positive and constructive feedback to candidates, it will increase their self-awareness and their skillsets. The real evidence of potential lies in a candidate's ability to learn quickly.

Overall, identifying, improving and developing a school leaver or graduate's soft skillset firstly depends on recognising the skills "gap" between candidates and employers. Understanding the market begins with listening to candidates, to create the best recruitment process for your company and youth talent. And understand that developing these skillsets is a continuous form of development, unlike the grades that only capture a small aspect of their talent.

Milkround is a school leaver and graduate job board - but we're much more than that. We're invested in inspiring young people to have the career confidence to shape their future. We empower, educate and encourage students to see their unique value. If you're interested in doing the same, through workshops or content-based projects, or want to know more about our research into the graduate market, contact info@milkround.com.

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