In 2015, Victoria University of Wellington did an Employability Skills survey to find out what employers are looking for in their graduates, apart from a degree of course! Read Survey. The survey found that the number one attribute (also known as ‘soft skill’) that employers want from graduates is work ethic while verbal communication skills are number two. They rank ahead of analytical and critical thinking (number four) and well ahead of written communication skills (number eight).
Other surveys and experts in New Zealand and overseas have found similar results.
Absolute IT, a New Zealand IT recruitment agency quotes an Absolute IT Job Seeker Insight report which found that tech professionals rate communication skills as the most important skill to get ahead in the workplace.
The Johnson Group, a New Zealand recruitment firm specialising in recruitment for the public sector did a survey to find the ten most sought after soft skills in the public sector and found that communication, verbal and written, ranked as number two. Johnson Group survey.
LinkedIn surveyed 2000 business leaders to find the top most in-demand soft skills for 2018. Communication was number two after Leadership. Read LinkedIn Survey.
Hays Recruiting uses their own experience to rank the top five soft skills that employers are looking for in 2018. They rank strong interpersonal and communication skills at number four. Read Hays top five skills.
Finally, an article in Stanford University’s, The College Puzzle, reinforces that oral communication skills are vital for students in their studies and in the careers “Communication skills are vital for a student’s academic success and future career prospects. In today’s challenging environment, students must not only possess academic expertise, but also the requisite skills to enhance their learning and employability prospects in the future.” Read the College Puzzle.
Some soft skills like ‘work ethic’ cannot easily be taught, but verbal communication skills can be taught. Of course, they are part of the education curriculum and are tested in NCEA. Universities also test verbal communication skills by requiring students to present seminars or projects. However, I question whether there is enough emphasis on verbal communication, especially at high-school. From what I have observed, students can get away with failing or avoiding speeches and still get their literacy credits. Even at university, depending on what course you take it is possible to come out of university with very good grades but poor communication skills.
It is not all bad news. Many young people are great communicators and are involved in activities such as drama, debating, student councils and leadership roles that help develop verbal communication skills. The 14-year old students who sign up for my Youth Leadership courses (a Toastmaster’s sponsored programme that I offer at a local high-school) do so because they understand the importance of presenting to an audience. Something that I did not understand at their age!
Two people have suggested to me recently that social media is partly responsible for young people wanting to develop their verbal communication skills. Many young people aspire to be like their favourite YouTube celebrities and vloggers. When I mentioned this in front of a a group of students recently, I saw a lot of nodding.
But despite these positive signs I worry about those who are missing out – the ones who don’t seek out opportunities and the students who get their literacy credits despite struggling with presenting to an audience. We see a lot of young people join Toastmasters because they have just had a promotion at work and suddenly they are expected to present to management or clients and they feel uncomfortable and unprepared. I don’t remember doing much public speaking when I was at school or university aside from being expected to contribute in tutorials. That was a long time ago, but I am not sure that it is much different today.
Article written by Catherine Syme
November 2019 update - Fear-less has teamed up with Speak Confidently to offer an intensive public speaking programme in February 2020 for young adults about to start univerity or their first job.
I strongly believe that anyone can manage their nerves and become a better public speaker with the right support.