The Millennials’ Skills Gap – Why, so what and what to do about it?

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No student or graduate has ever been fully prepared to enter the world of work. Recent studies of employers and Millennials find both groups agreeing that current education systems do not help students attain the required ‘human’ skills and behaviours to succeed in business.

A recent Youth Speak Report found over half of Millennials students (53%) believe there is disconnect between what they learn today and what they will need tomorrow[i] and a recent survey by Deloitte found that skills gained in higher education only contribute a third of those required to achieve organisational goals.[ii]

Why should a skills gap among Millennials be of concern to business?

By 2020, half of the workforce will be from the Millennial generation. They will be the future leaders in business, responsible for future growth, building relationships and taking key business decisions.

A recent study by Bentley University should therefore be of concern for business leaders. It found two-thirds of business leaders (64%) agreed that newly hired recent college graduates who are not well prepared harm the productivity of their organisation’s day-to-day business.[iii]

Why isn’t further education giving students the required skills to thrive in a real business environment?

1. Too focused on technical theory – many business schools are still teaching management concepts from the 1990s which don’t relate to the real world

2. Students “play the game” at University in order to get the best grades.[iv]

3. Success measured in credit hours (mainly in the USA). Time spent in the classroom, reading books, attending lectures, taking tests and exams, all done with the hope of a passing grade.[v]

4. Universities are too narrow, rewarding success in written exams and coursework.

5. Decline in Liberal Arts and Humanities degrees (which inherently require critical thinking, skills in analysis and communication skills) in favour of business and occupational degrees.[vi]

What key skills do businesses really need?

Business leaders agree that the key skills they require are ‘human’ skills. Behaviours that cannot be taught in a lecture or read in a book but instead acquired through human experiences, interaction, explanation, modelling, collaboration, coaching, feedback and mentoring.

One recent study found just 19% of business professionals believe hard skills are more important than soft skills, and only 40% say job-specific knowledge is important.[vii]

“Yes, they can pass a calculus exam, but can they identify or solve problems on the job, or negotiate, or lead a meeting?”[viii]

While basic technical knowledge (i.e. legal / accounting / marketing) is important, many employers agree however, that technical knowledge can easily be taught and acquired on the job.

We believe the fundamental skills and behaviours required to succeed in business, which underpin all core business activities (business development, negotiation, presenting, leadership) are ‘human’ skills.

Moving beyond the concepts of ‘soft skills’ and ‘emotional intelligence’, a recent study by the World Economic Forum and BCG helps to categorise the ‘human skills and behaviours’ required to succeed in business into two groups: competencies and character qualities:[ix]

1. Competencies: critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning and communication

2. Character qualities: leadership, adaptability, social skills, self awareness

What can be done?

Millennials are keen to learn and develop career skills and they acknowledge that the learning experiences they have encountered before entering the world of work have not equipped them with the skills and behaviours to succeed in the real world.

The future is bright. Compared to Generation X, hiring managers see Millennials as more open to change, creative and adaptable.[x] Having grown up in a fast-paced, digital world, Millennials are used to embracing change, instant communication and have developed an ability to access huge amounts of data at the click of a button.

The next step for employers is to determine exactly what skills and behaviours should make up a professional services career skillset for Millennials? This forms the basis of our third Millennials in Professional Services Point of View…

3. Defining a professional services career skill set for Millennials

Millennials in Professional Services Special Report Series:

Millennials in Professional Services Portrait

Part 1: Who are Millennials and why should professional services firms care?

Part 2: The Millennials’ Skills Gap – so what, why and what to do about it?

Part 3: Defining a professional services career skillset for Millennials

Part 4: Developing ‘Human Skills’ among the Millennial professional services workforce

Part 5: Can a ‘traditional’ professional services firm’s culture ever be compatible with the attitudes and expectations of Millennials?


[i] Improving The Journey From Education To Employment YouthSpeak Survey Millennial Insight Report 2015
[ii]“Mind the gaps” – The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey p.8
[iii] The PreparedU Project: Millennials in the Workplace, Bentley University 2014
[iv] Rebecca Flanagan, The Kids Aren’t Alright – Rethinking the law student skills deficit, B.Y.U. Education & Law Journal 2015
[v]See – This is the future of college
[vi]Rebecca Flanagan, The Kids Aren’t Alright – Rethinking the law student skills deficit, B.Y.U. Education & Law Journal 2015
[vii]The PreparedU Project: Millennials in the Workplace, Bentley University 2014
[viii]See This is the future of college
[ix] “New Vision for Education – Unlocking the Potential of Technology” World Economic Forum & Boston Consulting Group 2015 p. 3
[x] Dan Schawbel And Jaleh Bisharat, Businesses Need Millennials If They Are To Remain Competitive, Talent Development, January 2015 p.22

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