By Raheela Gill Anwar

The debate over the cost/value proposition of a higher education isn’t new. As tuition and student debt have skyrocketed in recent years, students and parents question the worth of a pricey bachelor’s degree. Their goal is employability, yet after graduation, they arrive on the job with mountains of debt and sometimes without the soft skills they need to succeed.

A Society of Human Resource Management study indicates the most commonly reported skills shortages are less about hard business skills and more about critical thinking/problem solving, professionalism/work ethic, leadership, written communications, and collaboration.

Yet, most colleges don’t seek these types of attributes as part of their admissions process. Some universities have made strides in teaching soft skills by developing team- and project-based work, and assigning individual contributor and leadership roles that mirror outside organizations. But these interactions often lack facilitation and consistency.

The result? Employees have inconsistent college experiences and narrow skill sets. Companies must change how they hire, develop, and retain employees with these differences in mind, assessing the talent they have, and then developing people at the pace they need. This involves an integrated approach to learning, development, and mentoring that helps people succeed.

Is Today’s Learning Hitting the Mark?

U.S. companies spent nearly $90 billion on employee training in 2018. Much of that investment was dedicated to technical skills and/or mandatory compliance matters. The dearth of soft skills, combined with the fluidity and pace of change, requires new approaches to learning and development.

Although they may have undergone significant training, the strongest individual contributors often get promoted to leadership positions without having the skills needed to lead a team. Emerging leaders should be confident and skilled at collaboration, negotiation, and communication tactics. In short, they should be able to influence and motivate others.

Early assessment and feedback are keys to developing successful young leaders. Cross-functional interaction, formal or informal, can also be valuable in facilitating comprehensive feedback and learning. Instead of relying solely on the immediate supervisor’s input (which is limited by nature), the individual is exposed to a wider array of perspectives and interactions, in addition to greater visibility with leadership—all of which helps shape his or her growth and development.

The Role of Mentoring

Mentoring programs also play a key role in development; in fact, the career benefits associated with mentoring are proven in an American Psychological Association study, which found that, compared with non-mentored employees, mentored employees:

  • receive higher compensation;
  • receive a greater number of promotions;
  • feel more satisfied with their careers;
  • feel more committed to their careers;
  • are more likely to believe that they will advance in their careers.

Mentoring works most effectively when complemented by structured leadership development programs to groom an individual for upward mobility. Having a mentor within the company can be a critical factor to success, and external mentors are also valuable because they bring fresh, outside perspectives.

The full-employment economy won’t last forever. The balance of power will eventually shift from the employee back to the employer. When that times comes, developed employees with well-rounded skill sets will have the upper hand.


This content originally appeared in HR Daily Advisor.