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Millennials in the workplace: harder to find soft skills?

SALT LAKE CITY — Millennials are set to overtake baby boomers this year as the largest living generation in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, but Ellen Reddick has not been impressed by their performance on the job.

“They don't have the skills, the soft skills,” Reddick said.

The Salt Lake City consultant has made it her business to teach on-the-job manners and soft skills — face-to-face communication, enthusiasm, teamwork, problem solving, professionalism — for Utah companies.

“I had the owner of a restaurant tell me the other day if he just had one person walk in with a clean white shirt, Dockers, pressed, decent shoes, their resume actually printed out and a pen in hand, he’d hire them to be the maître’ d,” she said.

A lot’s been written about twenty- and thirty-somethings’ workplace performance.

A 2013 study by American Express and Millennial Branding found that managers have an overall negative view of younger workers. About half of 1,000 managers surveyed said Gen Y-ers have unrealistic expectations for compensation. Forty-seven percent said those employees have a poor work ethic and 46 percent said they’re easily distracted.

About three-quarters of managers surveyed by Bentley University complained that millennials aren’t prepared for the job market and lack an adequate work ethic.

Here in Utah, two managers at Cyprus Credit Union say it’s more difficult than in the past to hire good people.

“I think that's becoming more of a challenge to find the right people,” said Buddy Bennett, director of human resources and training.

“My belief is that it is technology (that’s to blame),” he said. “Sometimes we forget to set it aside and really communicate with one another.”

“It's almost as if in the job interview if we could text it to them they would feel much more comfortable,” said Steve Fifield, vice president of branches. “Some of them are just out of their depth when it comes to face-to-face conversations with people.”

Twenty-something Stacia Hullinger agrees sometimes technology gets in the way of communication.

“Some people use that as a way to avoid confrontation because they don't want to make someone upset,” she said. “They just send a quick text and then they don't have to deal with it.”

Hullinger said she resigned from a job — actually here at KSL-TV — with an email.

“I was scared to talk to my producer about resigning,” she said. “I was like ‘oh, email’s a way that you can do that and that’s better for me because then I don’t have to.’ I was afraid of crying when talking to her about leaving and so I was like, ‘she can’t see me cry. I have to save face.’

“I've learned a good lesson that that’s not always the best way to do things,” she said.

Reddick said we can’t lay all the blame on cellphones.

“I think (it’s) because their parents have lost a lot of those soft skills. When you see people out with their small children the parent is on the telephone, on their cellphone, not engaging with their children. If we don't give them skills … no one else is going to.”

Educators at the Jordan Applied Technology Center said they see a need and are responding with lessons targeting those soft skills.

“We want to help them understand professionalism, we want to understand what it means to communicate, understand things like attendance and punctuality,” said CTE specialist Jamie Vargas.

Recently, during a “professional dress day,” students were encouraged to wear something other than jeans and T-shirts. Justin Morgan came to class in a clean white shirt, jacket, tie and dress shoes.

“What we’re doing now is what we'll be doing in the future so we might as well start dressing up like it,” he said.