The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 16, 2019 1:00 am

Strong communication skills sought after

Organization, problem-solving also essential

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Jake Pickett is a 1980s baby, so the internet wasn't a factor in his childhood years.

But the seasoned professional learned to embrace the now-mature networked system that helped change the speed and style of workplace communications, sometimes shining a spotlight on lacking “soft skills.”

Hand-written notes, for example, are rare, even though they're “still looked at as a nice gesture,” said Pickett, who turns 40 next year.

An email, rather than a trip down the hall to chat in person, is commonplace.

“If something really needs to get solved right then and there, picking up the phone, getting together in person is just so important,” Pickett said, noting that interpersonal relationships from face-to-face contact are valuable.

And emails sometimes take the tone of casual text messages, with grammatical flaws and emojis included.

That doesn't mean technology – the shift or use of – is negative, says Pickett, marketing manager at Sweetwater Sound.

These days, though, even with low unemployment, workplace observers see etiquette as crucial as embracing technology.

Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analysis firm, has included communication, organization and problem-solving on its list of soft skills employers most desire.

Northeast Indiana Works has been tracking desired employability skills several years though a survey, discussions with employers and information in online job advertisements, said Rick Farrant, director of communications for the organization.

Communication skills consistently land at the top of the list, “although the category is difficult to define and the meaning of communication varies from company to company,” he said.

Communication, for example, could be written, verbal or both. It could mean knowing how to write a report in one instance or “fashion understandable emails in another. It could mean knowing how to speak with a supervisor or it could mean knowing how to motivate a team. It could simply mean having a thorough understanding of grammar, punctuation and spelling.”

Many companies are willing to train workers in occupational or specialized skills to perform specific job tasks, Farrant said. But it is sometimes difficult to find workers “with the kinds of foundational skills that are needed across many industries and occupations,” he said through email.

“Beyond being critical to the function of a company's team, employability skills are often tied to assessing if a job candidate fits an organization's culture,” Farrant said.

“No matter how much technology changes the workforce landscape and heightens the occupational skills required of employees, employability skills will always be the bedrock of an employee's value to a company,” he said.

Barry Schrock, director of leadership programs at the chamber alliance, Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said social competencies are valued. Those competencies include self-awareness, when workers understand how they “show up everyday” and interact with others. 

Many people refer to those skills as emotional intelligence.

“I see that being a currency that people are going to be able to leverage,” Schrock said.

Many employers want employees who accept constructive feedback well and may even be open to mentoring.

Feedback is more palatable, Schrock said, when you're surrounded by people you trust.

“I believe 100% we just don't get to where we are by ourselves,” he said. “We need people to come alongside us and see things in us we just don't see in ourselves.”

Being open to growth experiences is valuable, too. That could be something as simple, Schrock said, as having a healthy appetite for reading.

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