Employers in northeast Indiana seek applicants with soft skills

March 2nd, 2016

News Coverage:

February 28, 2016

Employers in northeast Indiana seek applicants with soft skills

Alicia Kelly, Chronicle-Tribune

Employers of the two largest sectors in northeast Indiana are looking for a particular set of skills in their job applicants.

According to an analysis of online job ads posted by the region’s manufacturing and health care/social assistance sectors in 2015 conducted by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, oral and written communication skills, also known as soft skills, were far and away the priority of employers of both sectors.

According to a February Labor Market Report by Northeast Indiana Works, both sectors are expected to continue growing. Manufacturing is expected to grow 5 percent and the health care/social assistance sector is expected to grow by 23 percent.

Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works, said employers are specifically looking for skills including problem solving, troubleshooting and attention to detail, but some employers are looking for skills as simple as showing up to work on time.

“We interact with around 1,300 employers per year and what’s surprising is how entrenched the trend is that employers are seeking oral and written communication skills,” Farrant said. “The presumption is that something is missing in these applicants’ skill sets and that’s what we want to get to the bottom of.”

Tim Eckerle, executive director of the Grant County Economic Growth Council, said  a business climate survey he conducts every year has indicated employers of all sectors believe their job applicants lack soft skills, specifically oral and written communication.

“It’s always been an issue across all boards and this isn’t specific to northeast Indiana,” Eckerle said. “The ability to think logically, read and comprehend tasks has always been important to employers of all sectors.”

Kylie Jackson, President/CEO of Marion-Grant County Chamber of Commerce, said many employers she interacts with regularly indicate soft skills in their job applications are lacking.

“It’s something we hear about from our membership businesses,” Jackson said. “In discussions I have had with Marion schools they have said they are really trying to renew the effort to make teaching those skills a priority again.”

Jackson said the ages of applicants who lack oral and written communication skills are across the board for different reasons.

“Some employers see the younger generations who grew up with technology lacking interpersonal skills and the older generations may be lacking when it comes to the online job application process,” she said. “Employers are seeing a little bit of both.”

According to Farrant, the greatest number of job gains in northeast Indiana over the next decade is expected to be among team assemblers in manufacturing (1,158 jobs) and health care is expected to grow by 23.6 percent.

As of February, manufacturing accounted for about 82,000 jobs in northeast Indiana and health care and social assistance accounted for about 48,000 jobs.

Joe Frank, spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, said the data in the analysis indicates a need for more soft skill training.

“We are unfortunately seeing across the board that we need to be doing more soft skill training, not just in the adult workforce, but also at earlier ages,” Frank said. “We provide schools and institutions with this data so they can shape their curriculum around it.”

Gary Gatman, executive vice president of strategic initiatives for Northeast Indiana Works, said the emphasis on oral and written communication highlights the need for such skill development to be integrated with all learning disciplines.

“Oral and written communication needs may vary from occupation to occupation,” Gatman said, “But what is clear is that attention to developing effective communication should be embraced by all education and training providers.”