Durable skills are vital for future workers

Everyone knows how important it is for students to get the technical skills that can eventually lead to a good career in the Idaho workforce. But until now we have given less attention to the durable skills that help workers succeed and rise in their chosen career.

Durable skills used to be called “life skills” or “soft skills” which really downplays how important they are in the workplace. Idaho Business for Education calls these “durable skills” because they are the skills an employee can take with them wherever they go with their career.

This is important because we know that workers entering the workforce today will probably change careers seven or eight times in their lifetime. We also know that technical skills age out because of constant economic and technological changes. But durable skills like critical thinking, the ability to work collaboratively with others and communicate effectively do not change. They are evergreen.

A new report from Moscow-based Emsi Burning Glass called “High Demand for Durable Skills” shows that employers request these durable skills more than many so-called hard skills. (You can read the full report at idahobe.org/durable-skills). The report was commissioned by America Succeeds and Idaho Business for Education.

After reviewing 500,000 job postings from 11,000 Idaho companies, Emsi found that these are the top 10 durable skills employers want in order of preference: Communication; leadership; metacognition (self-awareness); critical thinking; collaboration; character; growth mindset; mindfulness; creativity; and fortitude.

In fact, the top five durable skills are wanted by employers four times more than the top five technical skills.

Knowing that teachers already have many demands on their time, we are not saying these skills should be taught in stand-alone classes. It is more effective to incorporate these skills into the regular math, language, civics, and science classes.

It would also be helpful if these skills were taught as early as possible, including in early education and full-day kindergarten programs. That’s because these are the foundational skills that can teach youngsters to be good classmates and learners right from the start of their educational journey.

America’s employers, including here in Idaho, are facing a structural labor shortage caused by low birth rates, the retirement of Baby Boomers and our country’s broken immigration system. This problem may have been exacerbated by COVID, but it will still be with us long after the pandemic passes.

The existing labor shortage makes it even more important for tomorrow’s workers to hold these durable skills as they move from one job to another and as employers need more effective and productive employees.

This is an opportune time for educators, policymakers, and business leaders to ask themselves: Are we preparing students for the future workforce? The answer is no if we are not also teaching them these durable skills that last a lifetime.

Rod Gramer

Rod Gramer

Rod Gramer is president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, a group of Idaho business leaders dedicated to education excellence.

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