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'Soft skills' are important at work, and in life
A degree from a prestigious university isn't as important as a good work ethic, the ability to work with a team and other so-called "soft skills," according to a new survey. And those soft skills help outside the office, too. - photo by Greg Kratz
It's interesting living with a high school junior.

Not only do you get to experience all the joys and, yes, challenges of parenting a teenager who is starting to spread her wings, but you also notice other strange changes to daily life.

One basic difference we've noticed lately is that our daughter is getting more mail than we are. That's particularly amazing considering the seemingly never-ending stream of bills we receive.

Based, I suppose, on her high grades, good test scores and interest in a career in architecture or engineering, she receives at least one letter or postcard from a college or university every day. She's heard from in-state schools, but also from colleges as far away as Florida, Texas, Oregon, Chicago and St. Louis. Heck, she's even received mail from Harvard and Yale.

And her email inbox has been flooded with even more requests for attention from colleges.

None of this matters much to her, because her heart is set on attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. But it is shocking to realize that I have a child who will soon be choosing a college and leaving home to further her education.

Shocking and a bit frightening, frankly.

The good news is that I know she'll be a great student, wherever she ends up. She is organized, focused and hardworking, and she has outstanding study skills. She also seems to have an innate sense of balance that helps her realize when it's time to work and when it's time to play. That should serve her well as she moves out on her own.

Those same characteristics also should set her apart as she enters the workforce. That feeling was reinforced for me last week as I perused the results of a recent survey by Instructure, a software-as-a-service company that created the Bridge learning and engagement platform.

The Instructure survey sought out more than 750 managers at U.S. companies during December 2014, asking which factors were most important to them when hiring entry-level employees and how they think today's young workers are matching up to those expectations.

According to the survey, where my daughter attends college isn't that important. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said a candidate's prestigious schooling was the least important consideration when they considered hiring an entry-level job candidate.

Well, that's a relief! I don't think Harvard and Yale were in our price range, anyway.

But what do those managers want to see in their new hires? The results may surprise you.

According to the Instructure survey, 88 percent of managers said new hires needed a strong work ethic to succeed, but only 15 percent said their new hires possessed that trait. Next on the scale of importance for success was teamwork, with 70 percent of managers touting it as necessary, while only 19 percent said their new hires had that characteristic.

Professionalism was third on the list, with 64 percent of managers saying new hires needed it, but only 11 percent indicating their recent additions had it. That was followed by critical thinking and problem solving, time management and interpersonal communication, which were all identified as important by 60 percent of managers in the Instructure survey.

If this is all true, I believe my oldest daughter is going to be one of those new hires who excels once she lands her first professional job. Her work ethic is incredible, and she definitely understands the importance of teamwork.

During the last few months, she has juggled a demanding academic schedule, piano lessons, church activities, mock trial team competitions and participation in a theater competition and production. The latter was especially challenging, as it included all-day rehearsals and, finally, performances last week, all as she approached the end of a term at school.

To be honest, this has caused her some stress at times. (After all, she is my daughter.) But she has handled it admirably, and I know the time management and coping skills she is developing now will serve her well in the years to come.

But that's probably enough of me rambling about my amazing daughter. (Believe me, I could go on and on!)

Another part of the Instructure survey addressed the training new employees receive when they enter the workforce. I've written before about the importance of orientation and training for a company's workers, and I believe it is crucial to their success.

The Instructure survey found that only 8 percent of managers "say entry-level employees are very prepared to immediately contribute to their organization," according to an infographic about the results. "Managers hire employees based on attitude and work ethic, then hope to effectively train them to develop other skills they need to excel in an entry-level position.

"While 85 percent of managers feel their organization is effective at training new employees overall, only a small percentage of managers feel that their training is effective in improving vital attributes."

Training is Instructure's business, so it's no surprise that the company would call this out in its survey. However, it's still a valid point.

Also valid is the emphasis on so-called "soft skills" like teamwork, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic. These things may not be taught in college, but they are important to success in Cubeville or anywhere else. I've found that the average family runs much more smoothly when its members work hard, get along and stay positive.

I hope my daughter will remember all of this as she continues her education and eventually starts her own career and family. Because when it comes to work-life balance, those basic skills make all the difference.