Leveling Up: What Skills Matter?

Is there really a skills gap? What skills should we develop internally? What skills cost the most? I often get these questions from organizations with whom we work. PayScale recently analyzed our data in an attempt to identify the skills that matter most in recent college graduates entering the workforce. There are some interesting findings for employers in the results that bear bringing to the surface.

Mind the Gap

One of the more interesting findings of the study was the fairly substantive gap between how prepared incoming workers believe themselves to be, versus how prepared managers of incoming workers find that they are. While 87% of new grads think they have what it takes, only 50% of managers think new grads are prepared.

Perhaps even more striking is the areas where incoming grads seem to fall short. For years we sought more and more technical savvy to fill gaps in our organizations, it would seem that colleges heard us. New grads seem quite technically capable, but what they lack now is communication skills and other softer skills. In particular, managers felt that new grads lacked these skills:

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  • 44% of managers cited writing proficiency
  • 39% of manager called out public speaking
  • 60% of managers identified critical thinking / problem solving
  • 56% of managers noted attention to detail
  • 46% of manager mentioned communication more broadly

We talk a lot about the importance of communication to building strong organizations. Millennials and the new Generation Z seek transparency of information, and have the ability to find information far easier than their predecessors. In the coming years, it may fall to organizations to train their workers in how to effectively communicate, work together on teams, and even to write.

Developing your Internal Talent

The study also pulls out the skills that are typical for each organizational level. It’s helpful to think of these as you begin to identify future leaders in your organization. These skills are the ones you want to make sure they develop early so that your future leaders are fully capable leaders before stepping into their new roles.

  • Managers and supervisors tend to have good strategy implementation skills like training management and event management
  • At the director level, the skills become more systemic, including senior financial management and software development management
  • By the executive level, the prevalent skills are business management and strategy development

The particular job family and function will obviously play into the necessary skills for each level. This leveling guide identifies the typical role each organizational level plays.

Some Skills are Just Worth More

It’s a fact of the matter: some skills earn more money. Another compelling part of the study shared, by industry, which skills are likely to be valued higher. While intended to help new grads ensure that those skills appear front and center on resumes, it’s useful for organizations to track which skills continue to top the list.

  • In Computer Occupations, Go and Scala top the list, boosting pay up to 22%
  • Mergers and Acquisitions make the top three in a number of major job groups, including Management Occupations, Business and Financial Operations Occupations, and Legal Occupations
  • IT Security (16%), Forecasting (12%), and Business Analysis (10%) raise pay for Sales Occupations
  • Top three in the sciences include Machine Learning (23%), Business Strategy (19%), and Data Mining/Data Warehouse (18%)

Of note is that many of skills that boost pay across the major job groups are very technical in nature. Thinking back to the communication gap, we may need to consider rewarding those skills that we have often taken for granted: people skills.


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