Important items on a modern job posting often include web design, writing skills and social media savvy.

Harder to list, but just as important, are the so-called “soft skills” that help employees work together smoothly: self-awareness, relationship management and emotional intelligence, to name a few.

At January’s State of the City luncheon held by the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, Chamber president Pat MulQueeny said a lack of these soft skills among potential employees was one of local businesses’ top concerns in a 2019 survey.

“Among the soft skills that are important: communication, teamwork, adaptability and problem solving,” said Leanne Rogstad, Hennepin Technical College’s vice president of academic affairs, in an email to Eden Prairie News. “They set the tone for how people perceive you.”

The college, which has an Eden Prairie campus at 13100 College View Drive, aims to equip its students with both the hard skills (engineering, graphic design, technological know-how) and soft skills necessary to succeed in the workforce, Rogstad said.

Soft skills have become a major talking point at schools and businesses in the last decade as technology has transformed the workplace. Instructors at Hennepin Tech take cues for their lesson plans from the college’s advisory board of tradespeople and business leaders, Rogstad said. In some classes, they assign collaborative projects in technical classes to teach teamwork and adaptability; in others, students give regular short presentations on information technology news to learn how to share information and explain concepts verbally.

“(Students) credit their instructor for preparing them for the workforce and teaching more than just how to reconfigure a router,” she added.

For around 50 mid-career workers, a Feb. 13 Eden Prairie Chamber luncheon on emotional intelligence provided an opportunity to learn about soft skills outside a classroom. Some found themselves puzzling over what emotional intelligence is before the presentation began.

“It’s not what work you do, but how you do the work,” suggested Julianne Tremba, a member of the Chamber.

“It’s learning how to take a step back before you speak or act,” hypothesized Samantha Redmond, another member.

Neela Kirankumar, an Eden Prairie High School student and youth member of the Chamber, seemed familiar with emotional intelligence already, describing it as “understanding and taking into account other people’s feelings.”

“Especially in today’s workplace, a lot of the skills people look for when hiring are soft skills,” she added.

Kristin Jonason, a consultant with the Prouty Project at 6385 Old Shady Oak Road, led the luncheon’s attendees through thought exercises and conversation as she explored emotional intelligence. The audience brainstormed traits of a good or bad leader (some positives: compassion, responsibility, flexibility; some negatives: volatility and lack of trust) and reflected on how they could better manage their emotions and relate to their coworkers.

“In a world of cell phones and social media and email, we’re losing a lot of opportunity to connect face-to-face,” Jonason told Eden Prairie News after the presentation. “It’s become more apparent because of the digital world we live in.”

Part of the emotional intelligence’s importance is the fact that employers expect that applicants have the “hard” job skills necessary for a given position, like database management experience or a degree in physics. The soft skills are what set someone apart immediately in an interview or workplace conversation, she said.

“The hard skills you can pretty much teach anyone,” added Kaitlin White, a Prouty Project consultant who attended the luncheon.

“Connecting with each other is going to be more and more important,” Jonason stated. “Emotional intelligence isn’t going away.”

Eden Teller is the multimedia reporter for Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about fostering productive conversations and empowering communities. When she's not reporting, she can be found reading a book, on a hike or tackling home improvement projects.

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