The Wall Street Journal writes today about a key impediment in hiring: fewer applicants have soft skills:

… considerable evidence suggests that many employers would be happy just to find job applicants who have the sort of “soft” skills that used to be almost taken for granted. In the Manpower Group’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, nearly 20% of employers cited a lack of soft skills as a key reason they couldn’t hire needed employees. “Interpersonal skills and enthusiasm/motivation” were among the most commonly identified soft skills that employers found lacking.

Employers also mention a lack of elementary command of the English language. A survey in April of human-resources professionals conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the AARP compared the skills gap between older workers who were nearing retirement and younger workers coming into the labor pool. More than half of the organizations surveyed reported that simple grammar and spelling were the top “basic” skills among older workers that are not readily present among younger workers.

The SHRM/AARP survey also found that “professionalism” or “work ethic” is the top “applied” skill that younger workers lack. This finding is bolstered by the Empire Manufacturing Survey for April, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It said that manufacturers were finding it harder to find punctual, reliable workers today than in 2007, “an interesting result given that New York State’s unemployment rate was more than 4 percentage points lower in early 2007 than in early 2012.”

The skills shortage is not just an absence of workers who can write computer code, operate complex graphics software or manipulate cultures in a biotech lab—as real as that scarcity is. Many people lack what the writer R.R. Reno has called “forms of social discipline” that are indispensable components of a person’s human capital and that are needed for economic success.

The concept of soft skills is not unfamiliar to longtime friends of the John Locke Foundation. I noted their importance in a 2008 Spotlight report on job training programs that discussed why private and charitable job-training programs have the measurable success that government-sponsored training typically lacked. With respect to charitable job-training aimed specifically at the hardest to employ (ex-convicts, recovering drug addicts, etc.), I wrote:

Several private training programs — especially charitable programs — start by addressing “soft skills,” which are those life skills that makes a person employable at any job: timeliness, proper attire, good hygiene, good work ethic, respect for others, a good attitude toward superiors and colleagues, good communication skills, sobriety, etc. Many also teach life skills such as financial responsibility and household management.

These skills are important to obtain because poverty in America is mostly self-inflicted,15 owing to poor decisions and behaviors,16 especially a weak work ethic.17

HT: Jon Ham