Power Skills: What They Are and Why Employers are Prioritizing Them?

Emotional intelligence. Communication. Problem solving. Active listening. 

These are the traits that nine out of ten recruiters are crying out for from their future workforce. Conversely, a recent survey revealed over 75% of students feel they are not building these crucial skills at university. 

Power skills. You may know them as soft skills and identify them as teamwork, collaboration, agility, communication, and creativity. However, they are now more commonly known as power skills and that term is certainly earned - these skills are required in leadership positions and utilized to make important decisions, resolve arguments, and overcome workplace challenges. In fact, new research from Harvard Business Review found that when companies seek a new CEO, they prioritize applicants with good power skills

As the need to be adaptable and evolve with the rapidly changing workplace increases, it points to the fact that more and more global companies will search for graduates that possess these essential skills. To avoid a skills gap between academia and the workplace, it is vital that universities provide their students with experiential learning opportunities to build these attributes, with a view to becoming lifelong learners in the process. 

In this post, we will cover:

  • An all-encompassing guide to power skills 
  • Why (and what) power skills are important to employers
  • How universities can equip graduates with these skills
  • The importance of being a lifelong learner - and the benefits it will bring 


What are Power Skills and How do they Differ from Soft Skills or Hard Skills?

The term soft skills has been around since the mid-20th century and has been used to describe attributes such as:

  • Communication
  • Productivity
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Critical Thinking 

Over the past two years, these soft skills have become the most valuable assets for employers and have been elevated to a term known as ‘power skills.’

Power skills are the intangible abilities that enhance our interactions, productivity, and adaptability in diverse settings. Unlike technical skills (also known as hard skills), which focus on specific tasks, power skills encompass communication, teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. They empower individuals to navigate complex challenges, collaborate effectively, and lead with empathy, playing a pivotal role in personal and professional success. 

This evolution of the importance of this set of skills is due to a variety of factors, the most prevalent being the Covid-19 pandemic. The outbreak resulted in completely revolutionizing the world of work, ushering in a new era of hybrid and remote working, and dramatically accelerating many companies’ digital transformations. 

We have also been living through The Great Resignation, an ongoing economic trend in which workers quit their jobs to seek a better work/life balance, a period that reached its peak in 2021 when 49 million people resigned in the US alone. 

Therefore, employers have had to drastically alter their criteria when seeking new starters, favoring employees who are creative, collaborative, and compassionate. The same goes when looking for interns who possess certain traits

With these skills now becoming more prominent on job descriptions and more desired by employers - one recent survey revealed 92% of employers prefer them over traditional, hard skills - their importance and relevance have prompted this trending name change. 


What Specific Power Skills Are Employers Looking For?

So, we know that power skills are in high demand, but when it comes to the specifics, what talents are going to stand a candidate out from their competitors? 

As employers look to either reshape or develop their teams, what skills should they be outlining as essential moving forward?

Over the past few years, many jobs have either disappeared or have been dramatically altered due to the rise in automation and other tech. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more prominent, and with over 97 million jobs set to merge, the future of jobs is looking different, which has big implications for those starting their careers now, such as graduates. 

Research recently highlighted that just 10% of the global workforce has the skills needed for businesses to adopt AI. Therefore, the dynamic has shifted, with over half (54%) of agile businesses prioritizing the development of power skills over traditional hard skills, compared to 42% of traditional businesses.

When it comes to specifics, the five power skills that employers are particularly interested in are:

  • Collaboration 
  • Leadership
  • Attention to detail
  • Personal learning 
  • Communication  

Whilst, in theory, these skills can be somewhat developed during education. The key trait that these skills have in common is the need to adapt to diverse situations. Possessing these skills in particular will equip graduates to thrive in the ever-evolving workplace, but do they have access to experential learning opportunities to adequately develop them?

The Move to Skills-based Hiring

With power skills being so desirable, it is no surprise then that skills-based hiring has been hailed as one of the key workplace trends of 2023. It is enabling companies that move beyond the traditional process of hiring an applicant based on their degree or experience, particularly in such a crowded job market. 

By outlining, searching for, and hiring applicants based on their skills, companies are able to bring in talented new recruits who can make a positive impact. It is something that businesses are waking up to, with a recent survey revealing that one in four organizations use pre-employment tests and plan to expand them over the next five years.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft are three prime examples of employers that are looking beyond an applicant’s degree and instead focusing on hiring based on skills and experience.

Is There Currently a Shortage of Graduates with the Right Power Skills?

As seen above, many companies have pivoted to searching for power skills when hiring. However, it hasn’t been easy for employers to find candidates that possess their desired attributes - a recent survey revealed that three in four employers say they have a hard time finding graduates with the soft skills that they require

In the USA, employers have been voicing their concerns. “Adaptability, problem-solving, creativity, influence, drive, empathy and collaboration. These things aren’t being practiced by college graduates,” says Jim Link, most recently Chief Human Resources Officer for Randstad North America.

It is something that is keenly felt by students and graduates themselves - 49% of recent graduates feel underqualified for entry-level jobs, while two out of five students regret their choice of degree.

Employability is a crucial factor for many students when deciding upon a university, but the amount of students who actually use their career services at their university is a cause of concern. Internships have often been viewed as sitting outside of the curriculum, but can building it into the curriculum provide a welcome solution to closing this skills gap? 


The Time is Now to Fill the Power Skills Gap

How do the workforce of today and the future build these skills?

Well, there have been concerns. Not only are businesses doubting the higher education model, but so are students. They confessed that university and college have failed to teach them core attributes - people skills, time management, problem-solving - that will stand them in good stead when they graduate.

Students have also revealed that when it came to communicating in a professional environment, they had not been taught the most efficient way of doing so - it was only at an internship did they learned such an essential skill. 

An internship is certainly an ideal way of building power skills before entering full-time employment, and something that employers welcome, with 80 percent stating that during the hiring process, it is very important to them that recent college graduates demonstrate the ability to apply learning in the real-world settings

How to Create Lifelong Learners 

As businesses increase their reliance on AI and other tech, employers have outlined personal development and learning as core power skills moving forward. However, it is fair to assume that the skills required by employers will shift and alter over time.

With that in mind, lifelong learning - self-initiated education for those looking to develop themselves - has become a highly desirable trait among the workforce. Being a lifelong learner enables you to adopt a growth mindset, enhance your skills, and be able to offer innovative solutions - all highly desired by employers. 

It is a core component of employee development. After all, if you are constantly learning, you are adaptable and relevant, able to assist your organization in introducing new innovations and staying ahead of the competition.

It chimes with the current needs of businesses, with nine out of ten employers seeing lifelong learning as an essential trait.

It’s also a rewarding experience. Whether you are getting to grips with a new piece of technology or mastering cooking a new meal, being a lifelong learner offers fulfillment and self-confidence. 

This habit of constantly learning and developing yourself can be instilled at university through partaking in experiential learning opportunities such as project-based learning, internships, and co-ops. The real-world experience is what will make the difference when it comes to ensuring these learners become adaptable, diverse, and resilient. 


Building the Skills that Power Employment for University Graduates

Lifelong learners, armed with power skills, can contribute meaningfully to their organizations, drive innovation, and thrive in a competitive environment. Incorporating work-integrated learning opportunities within university curricula lays the foundation for this journey. It's about preparing graduates not just for their first job, but for a lifetime of success.

Virtual Internships offers a unique and innovative platform to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application. By partnering with us, your university can ensure that your students graduate with the skills and experience necessary to thrive in the modern workplace. Join us in shaping the future of education and employment today.

Find out more about partnering with Virtual Internships for your institution here:

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