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Soft Skilled

Soft Skilled
Soft skills arm students with professional etiquette and confidence.

Getting to work on time, dressing nicely and writing a proper e-mail should be just another day at the office for any working professional, right? Apparently not.

Experts say that many of today's job seekers lack the "soft skills" that are more crucial than ever in today's workplace.

Soft skills are the non-technical skills you need to get a good job, keep it and climb the career ladder. Robert Zeledon, spokesman for Year Up, a Boston-based job training program, calls them the ABCs that they don't teach in school — "attitude, behavior and communication."

Are you organized? Can you communicate well both verbally and in writing? Work in a team environment? Problem solve? Deal tactfully with difficult situations?

"Soft skills are just very important," said Ted Fleming, head of talent management for Aetna, the health insurance company. "That's the nature of work today. You're working in teams, in a competitive environment. You have to be able to understand customers, understand their environment and draw insights from that."

Educators point to a generation that has grown up engrossed in the digital world but now finds itself adjusting to the more practical, real-life workplace.

Young job seekers "come up with very superior IT skills — they know how to [use] Facebook [and] Twitter [and] how to operate electronics — but they have difficulty with the one-to-one interpersonal, team building, team functioning type of skill set," said José Millan, vice chancellor for economic development and workforce preparation for California Community Colleges.

Complaints from employers about their employees run the gamut: inappropriate attire, chronic lateness, not knowing how to properly introduce yourself or shake a client's hand, and poor time management, Zeledon said.

Soft skills are so important that many community colleges are incorporating this type of training into workforce development programs.

For example, students enrolled in the utility and construction prep program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College spend about 25% of instruction time on soft skills that are specific to those industries, said Marcy Drummond, vice president of workforce and economic development at Trade Tech.

At Los Angeles Valley College, students can gain the soft skills that will lead to a job with a specific employer, such as a bank or a bioscience firm, said Lennie Ciufo, director of job training at Valley College.
When Metro, the major operator of bus an rail service in L.A. County, was having trouble finding bus operators and customer service reps with good soft skills, the public transit company turned to Valley College for guidance. In the past few years, Valley College has trained and placed hundreds of Metro workers in jobs that pay more than the living wage, Ciufo said.

Valley College offers special soft-skills training for middle- and upper-level managers who are back in the job market after being laid off.

If you're a computer specialist who can write great code but is uncomfortable working with other people, all is not lost. Many companies, such as Aetna, offer on-the-job training in soft skills.

— Anne Burke, Custom Publishing Writer