Amid Soft Skills Crunch, More Employers Seek Out Liberal Arts Majors

Amid Soft Skills Crunch, More Employers Seek Out Liberal Arts Majors

As more and more organizations wake up to the fact that they need workers with liberal arts educations, employment rates and starting salaries are on the rise among graduates with degrees in the arts and humanities, Nikki Waller reported at the Wall Street Journal last week:

Class of 2015 graduates from those disciplines are employed at higher rates than their cohorts in the class of 2014, and starting salaries rose significantly, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ annual first-destination survey of recent graduates in the workforce. Degree holders in area studies—majors like Latin American Studies and Gender Studies—logged the largest gains in full-time employment and pay, with average starting salaries rising 26% to $43,524 for the class of 2015, compared with the previous year’s graduates. Language studies posted the second-highest salary gains.

Though area studies majors comprise less than 1% of all graduates in the survey, the pay numbers show employers are seeking hires with communication skills and comfort in multicultural environments, said Edwin Koc, NACE’s director of research, public policy and legislative affairs. … Behind the numbers is a growing desire among employers for hires with strong communication skills, said Mr. Koc. After complaining that new hires’ soft skills are not up to par, “employers may be reconsidering how they’re approaching recruiting college graduates, and may not be so focused on hiring a particular major,” he said.

The bottom line here is that soft skills are increasingly in demand and also in short supply. Undeniably valuable in today’s work environment, these skills are generally harder to teach and cannot always be easily assessed or identified during the interview process. Sourcing for more talent with liberal arts backgrounds is one way to soft skills, but there are also some other ways that they can ensure they are hiring for and building soft skills among their workforce, such as:

  1. Hiring for network fit. Network fit indicates how well a new hire fits with the way his or her colleagues work. As opposed to cultural fit, which assesses candidates by their values and interests and can sometimes lead to biased hiring decisions, network fit judges candidates by their approach to work situations and is increasingly important as the work environment becomes more collaborative and interdependent. CEB research finds that hiring for network fit can improve quality of hire by 30 percent (CEB HR Leadership Council for Midsized Companies members can use our network fit interview guide as a template).
  2. Holding managers accountable for developing soft skills. Bombardier Aerospace, a CEB member company, found that employees were struggling to collaborate and apply soft skills in their manufacturing plants. Employees excelled in technical skills and in their individual performance, but the Learning and Development team saw a huge opportunity to build collaboration. Now they hold soft skills training courses and teach managers to emphasize collaboration and communication skills on their teams (Members can read the full case study here).
  3. Creating a collaborative work environment. Organizations that promote knowledge sharing and reward managers for raising the level of cooperation on their teams see gains in terms of both performance and employee engagement. Collegiality and perceptions of coworker quality are important aspects of the employee value proposition, and focusing on these elements drives a culture that is conducive to building soft skills (Members can access a range of resources on how to accomplish that goal).