Strategic Competencies are more important than Functional Competencies!! What’s the news here?


For long time readers and clients, this headline should come as no surprise.  CareerBuilder just published some research on the job market and hiring prospects for new college graduates and some of the findings, although well known within this blog’s community, are still worth discussing.

The main point raised is that colleges are not adequately preparing their students for the job market.  Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer of CareerBuilder says “One in five employers feel colleges do not adequately prepare students with crucial workplace competencies, including soft skills and real-world experience…”.  Imagine if 20% of your customer base is not happy with your product!

Here are the top competencies that were lacking in new graduates:

  • Interpersonal or people skills: 52 percent
  • Problem-solving skills: 46 percent
  • Oral communication: 41 percent
  • Leadership: 40 percent
  • Written communication: 38 percent
  • Teamwork: 37 percent
  • Creative thinking: 36 percent
  • Project management: 26 percent
  • Research and analysis: 16 percent
  • Math: 15 percent
  • Computer and Technical: 13 percent

This is very consistent with the extensive research that TMG has done on this topic over the years.  We’ve earned the wrath of many an HR professional by insisting that they were doing a disservice by continuing to use the term “soft” skills” because it de-emphasizes their criticality.  We much prefer calling them Strategic Competencies.  Take a look at the top 8 in the list above and if you have worked with us, you will see every single one of them in your Competency Model and in your curriculum?

Here were some of the more salient points raised:

  • Too much emphasis on book learning instead of real world learning: 46 %
  • Need workers with blend of technical skills and soft skills gained from liberal arts: 38 %
  • Entry-level roles within my organization are more complex today: 22 %

This should also sound familiar – the strong emphasis on Adoption that accompanies all our competency engagements now are driven by the argument that classroom training does not yield competencies by must be accompanied by Adoption of the new competencies.

This is also a topic that was dealt with extensively by the Next Practices Xchange for an entire day with participation by academic institutions.  We actually went and visited a very prominent Business and Supply Chain university on the East Coast and spoke with their leadership and their students on this topic and were pleasantly surprised to hear that they had been hearing the same thing from almost all of their “customers”.  Unfortunately, the wheels of change grind even slower in academic institutions – even though we offered to help them re-design some of their classes for gratis.  Since then, we’ve had conversations with the major university for this topic in the Big 10 (midwest) with similar results.  We have just invited another prominent University from Chicago to join the Next Practices Xchange to actively pursue this topic with us and the rest of the members.  Our goal is to continue pressing the business community and the academic community to develop a “community (no pun intended) of practice” around this topic.  Having said that, it would be foolish to lay this at the door of universities alone.  Business organizations must take full responsibility for this issue as well.  Once they hire these graduates, what do you think they do in terms of further developing their competencies?  Do you think they focus on Strategic Competencies 🙂 ?  If you answered no, move to the head of the class. 

Even after recognizing the shortcomings of new graduates, organizations continue to ignore the Strategic Competencies and invest almost all of their training dollars in functional competencies.  Entire talent development programs (hire to retire) focus on functional competencies.  So before we continue bashing universities, let’s make sure our house is in order.  A shout out to Tim Cummins (IACCM) for his efforts in bridging this gap between academia and the business world and we are actively collaborating on a major research study on this topic in the near future.  If you would like to understand where you are as an organization on this very critical topic, let us know and we can send you our Talent Risk Snapshot which in 5 minutes will give you a pretty accurate picture.



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