New Research: Employers Want Smart and Socially-Savvy Workers

shutterstock_140079079_Students Round Table_Fall 2014It’s not enough for new hires to be smart or well educated. A new study indicates that employers also want their fledgling employees to have strong social skills.

Soon to be published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, the research drew connections between what employers say they want in an employee and high-paying jobs requiring complex interpersonal skills. Such abilities include problem solving, complicated communication required in directing and planning, and the vague “people skills” so frequently appearing in job descriptions.

The research, conducted by UC Santa Barbara professor Catherine Weinberger, showed that today’s labor market demands higher-skilled workers who are not just smart but who are also well rounded. Only those who possess both skill sets reach the highest tiers of the corporate ladder.

Previous research has shown a direct correlation between non-cognitive skills demonstrated in high school and higher wage earning later in life, especially among high school athletes, leaders, and the socially adept. In the past, employers were content with hiring a worker who possessed either cognitive skills—i.e. book smarts—or social savvy.

The same is not true today. To assess the situation, Weinberger examined US government surveys from 1979 and 1999 that measured high school seniors’ math scores and their earnings when they reached their late twenties. The surveys also contained data about students’ social engagement in activities like yearbook, sports, or other outlets. Weinberger then measured skills required in different jobs. Some were managerial and required both social and cognitive skills. Others required one skill or the other, such as number crunching to measure cognitive ability or social adeptness needed in sales or marketing.

Weinberger’s analysis showed that in today’s labor market, both skill sets had to be present for the individual to earn more. In previous years, there was no additional benefit to having both sets of skills.

Her research also showed that students who are neither socially adept nor academically engaged are doing worse than expected and worse over previous years.

The ramifications for education policy are great, Weinberger says. The next questions to ask are whether people are naturally gifted in both areas or if they can be educated differently to give them stronger and more balanced bundles of skills as they enter the labor market, she adds.



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