Demand for Soft Skills to Grow

Recognized for her expertise in organizational behavior and research on identity and work, Associate Professor Beth Bechky helped organize a two-day forum on future jobs skills at the Keck Center in Washington D.C. from May 31 to June 1.

The forum, “Workshop on Research Evidence Related to Future Skill Demands,” was sponsored by the National Academies’ Center for Education with support from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Science Education and the Russell Sage Foundation. The workshop brought together economists, sociologists, public policy specialists and educators from across the country to discuss the job skills employers will need in decades ahead, and whether students are getting the education they need to be employable.

The experts shared their ideas, research methods and best practices used to predict the type of skills they believe will be most marketable in 2020. Research was presented on future demand for skills in two large and rapidly-growing employment sectors: professional “knowledge workers” and low-wage service workers. Other topics included globalization of work, methods to measure the impacts of computerization on work, and education and training strategies to meet the future demand for specific job skills.

Bechky and other scholars agreed that “soft skills”— effective self-management and interpersonal and written communication skills—will be in high demand by the year 2020. Several participants noted that employers are already frustrated by the lack of soft skills among job candidates, particularly in science and software engineering positions. Bechky also moderated a panel of scholars who discussed the skills necessary for knowledge work

Bechky, who joined the Graduate School of Management faculty from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, was promoted to Associate Professor last fall.