Newnan Rotary Club
Butler addresses need for soft skills on job
by Clay Neely
Sixty-nine percent of first-time hires are likely to lose their jobs due to a lack of soft skills, according to Mark Butler, state labor commissioner.
“We also polled potential employers, posing the question, ‘If you were looking hiring a new person but with either one skill set, which one would you prefer?’ The employers overwhelmingly picked soft skills over technical by 81 percent,” said Butler. “That’s astonishing.”
Butler was guest speaker for Newnan Rotary Club on Jan. 3 at Newnan Country Club, where he addressed the current challenges and issues facing Georgia’s workforce, among them being the lack of both technical and soft skills in new job seekers.
“Even three years ago with record unemployment, businesses still could not find talent,” said Butler. “It’s worse now than it was three years ago, in terms of finding specialized workers and employers just can't find the individuals they’re looking for. It’s a skills gap.”
“Because of the changes of Georgia’s economy in the last three to four years, a lot of the old talents we’ve lost aren’t coming back. However, the good news is that there are newer ones that are coming in that pay better and last longer. These are more high tech and speciality positions that require training. A GED or high school diploma just isn’t good enough anymore,” said Butler.
“Look at the industries we are attracting to Georgia right now. They need skilled individuals and those will be long terms jobs and that’s good for Georgia. The big issue is getting that talent level up,” said Butler. “The good news for Georgia is the fact that we have the best technical college system in the nation.”
Butler believes that Georgia will ultimately overcome the technical skills gap. However, he sees the gap in soft skills becoming more prevalent.
"I had never heard the term ‘soft skills’ until about three years ago. A scenario that is becoming all too common is an employer finding the right person with the right degree but their soft skills are terrible. Maybe they’re not getting along with their co-workers and causing trouble or maybe they’re showing up late if they bother to show up at all. Bad communication skills. The more we talked to businesses, the more we realized what a huge problem this is.”
“That’s how we came up with the Georgia Best program. Two years ago, we found 20 schools to partner with us in order to get across to young people the importance of soft skills in order to be successful,” said Butler.
“This program lets students know what is expected of them. All the things that are expected in school are also expected in the workplace: working well with others, showing up on time, dressing appropriately and, recently, social media ethics,” said Butler. “That’s a big problem out there.”
“All of this is to better grow our workforce, which will ultimately help Georgia. Right now, the name of the game is workforce. You can have a great location and great incentives, but if your community doesn’t have a well-trained workforce that possesses both hard and soft skills, you’re not going to grow your economy. Businesses won’t invest millions in building in your community if you don’t have the talent.”
Butler cited both Chick-fil-A and Publix as examples of businesses that have tapped into the importance of soft skills.
“Do they pay their employees more than their competition? No. They just refuse to lower their standards,” said Butler. “Employees with a firm grasp of soft skills advance quicker and make more. Once the kids understand it, it can change everything.”
Butler also discussed the issues in terms of changing the face of the labor department.
“People show up looking for work at the end of their unemployment benefits,” said Butler. “It’s a mad rush. ‘Help find me a job.’ If we want to help those who out of work, we need to view as them sooner as inventory that needs to find a place. We want to get stock on the individual and their talents so we can communicate with the businesses to see their needs and get them to match up.”
“When my team came into office three years ago today, we wanted to change the overall philosophy of the labor department and how we did business,” said Butler. “Being a Republican from the private sector, I’ve been very focused on making things more efficient. Today, we are now 25 percent smaller than we were three years ago with a massive savings to Georgia’s taxpayer,” said Butler.
“The labor department inherited a large federal debt due to the overall length of the recession and three years ago, owed a billion dollars to federal government,” said Butler. “Through a combination of going after fraud, pushing employment services, reductions in FUTA credits and getting people back to work quicker, we have now gone from owing close to a billion dollars to around 150 million in loans and it looks like we will have it paid off by this May,” said Butler. “By next year, we will see over 210 million dollars returned to Georgia’s economy.”