Top 5 Skills Most Desired by Employers When Entering the Workforce

As NYEC dives into a grant-funded project on sustainable employer engagement, it has uncovered important learning questions along the way. Youth face adversity in their ability to get hired, and one of the most common complaints from employers and our workforce today, are what are often called “soft skills.” Whether called “soft skills,” “power skills,” “21st century skills,” or (more recently) “employability skills”, the idea is that most middle- and high-skill jobs today require a set of sophisticated skills related to working with people. Both the workforce and K-12 educators are thinking more about these skills too, such as teaching “socio-emotional learning” or SEL. However, more than 1 in 8 youth are not in employment education or training (Mourshed, Mona, Diana Farrell and Dominic Barton, 2013). Below is a list of skills most useful for youth entering the workforce:  


  1. Soft Skills – According to The Entry-Level Job Requirement survey, the majority (77%) of employers believe that soft skills, such as time management, teamwork, and professional communication, are as or more important than technical skills. Communication skills are especially useful in all areas of work whether a youth utilizes this skillset to ask for help, present their ideas, or participate in appropriate work discourse such as an email or presentation. Youth employment programs can assist in bridging the gap between what is taught in a traditional classroom and other the skillsets needed for employment. 
  2. Digital Literacy – Employed youth have new ideas about how their employer can better use technology to improve sales, branding and recruiting in addition to new media like social media (Bennet & Hall, 2014). Digital literacy is a unique skillset that Gen Z can use to set themselves apart from other generations. It can also be used as a resource to find information, problem-solve, and successfully learn other new skills online. Digital literacy may also assist them in the training process.  
  3. Thinking Skills – Decision making, problem solving, and reasoning skills will help advance youth and bring light to their strengths in a job interview. Employers can determine the candidate’s ability to consider risks, choose alternatives, and organize solutions. These skills transfer to the workplace so that employees tackle new challenges, explore ideas, and ask questions or for help when needed.  
  4. Enthusiasm / Willingness to Learn- A youth’s first job may set them on a path to a new career even if this position is entry-level. Young people bring excitement and flexibility to a company. Employers want to see a “go get ‘em” attitude and willingness to get involved and tackle new challenges. Employers are looking for the next generation to mold rather than those who have already gotten stuck in a certain pattern. Additionally, the ability to mold makes an adaptable employee that can take direction and learn from the seniority at that organization. Even in entry-level positions, this willingness to learn will help youth gain skill sets needed to advance them in other capacities.   
  5. Personal Qualities– Responsibility, self-esteem, self-management, and integrity.  Employers have also found that opportunity youth are hardworking, resilient and adept at facing personal and professional challenges especially compared to other young people (Bradley, 2003). Emotional intelligence goes a long way in a worker’s ability to make connections at the jobsite with both co-workers and higher ups.  


 The research shows that the most valuable assets a future employee can have are not necessarily the hard and technical skills provided by a degree or direct experience, but rather ….. This opens the door for youth who may find that their passions better match a different career path while utilizing the same set of skills. Communication, eager attitudes, and problem-solving all give opportunity youth this competitive edge when entering the work force compared to their counterparts. 


Mourshed, Mona, Diana Farrell and Dominic Barton. “Education to Employment, Designing a System that Works.” McKinsey Center for Government. May 2013, Online. Available at  
Cominetti, Nye, Paul Sissonsand Katy Jones. “Beyond the business case: The employer’s role in tackling youthUnemployment.” Missing Million Programme, The Work Foundation. July 2013, Online. Available at’s%20Role%20FINAL%202%20July%202013.pdf
Bradley, James R. “Bridging the Cultures of Business and Poverty” A Case Study, Stanford Social Innovation Review. Spring 2003. Available at