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“What we see in survey after survey is employers saying qualifications are important,” Nick Hurd, the former Minister for Civil Society said recently, “but that just as important to us are so-called soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people, to articulate yourself clearly, confidence, grit, self-control.
They are saying we are not seeing enough of this in kids coming out of school.” But surely such skills are fluffy extras, far less important than an ability to speak a dozen languages and perform advanced calculus in your head?
“But we’re not spending enough time in family units.
Children have to be reminded to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
The absence of these skills is the reason why, despite huge youth unemployment (737,000 people, nearly 17 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds, are currently jobless), 54 per cent of employers, while agreeing recruits are more highly qualified than ever, still complain that they can’t fill vacancies.And that is something that can’t be outsourced to a computer.If you can’t do one of the two, then it’s time to brush up on your shelf-stacking.They’re why, despite our patriotism, many of my friends end up employing eastern-European builders, nannies and assistants, because – unlike many of their British counterparts – they show up on time, smile and aren’t forever distracted by Facebook.Last year Kate Reardon, the editor of Tatler, was lambasted for being anti-feminist after she told students at the all-girls Westonbirt School, “It doesn’t matter how many A-levels you have, what kind of a degree you have, if you have good manners people will like you.” After critics said she was effectively telling girls not to get an education, Reardon (who showed a brilliant mastery of soft skills in the recent BBC documentary Posh People by self-deprecatingly describing herself as a “honking Sloane”) vehemently defended herself. Countless studies have shown that we take just three seconds to evaluate someone by their appearance, body language, mannerisms and dress.
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Could academic excellence have come at the expense of emphasising good manners?