Antony Jenkins, chief executive of Barclays, has said
that many youngsters turn up for interviews lacking basic social skills, and
that, “There is the danger that we will have a lost generation of youngsters if
we do not help them develop the skills they will need for the new world of
work. These include analytical and financial abilities, but also, and this is
crucial, they include people skills. It seems basic stuff: how to shake
someone’s hand, look them in the eye and hold your shoulders back.” He called
on parents, teachers and bosses to help youngsters gain the social
confidence they need to compete in the global jobs market, saying, “In the
workplaces of the future collaboration will be very important. The question of
how to teach this generation to be successful is very important.”


I don’t think that the Chief Executive of Barclays was
being condescending or provocative in his statement that young people need to
acquire excellent social skills for the workplace of tomorrow.  It is true that people have been complaining
about the next generation ever since records began – consider this from
Socrates, two and a half thousand years ago:

“Our youth now love
luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for
their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when
elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company;
gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

It is indeed a favourite past
time of the older generation to criticise the younger.  It is also wholly unfair; after all, the
central irony in this sort of criticism is that adults of the older generation bring
up the children of the next, so they can hardly absolve themselves of
responsibility – and by and large, the younger ones go on to achieve even
greater feats than they did.

But Mr Jenkins was right to
say that people skills are essential for the workplace.  Most jobs require at their basic core a
necessity to be able to build personal relationships from scratch.  If you work in a large company, the ability
to get along with your work mates and to buy in to a corporate culture is a key
requirement; if you work in a small company, this requirement is even more
crucial, as even minor fall outs can risk the stability of the whole business;
and any employer, large or small, requires people who can sell the business to
others – and it is not possible to sell anything at all if you cannot present yourself effectively.  

How you meet someone for the
very first time makes a huge difference to the way they think of you, and it is
as well to start understanding that right now; it is very hard to change
someone’s opinion of you beyond the first minute or so that you meet. 
“How to shake someone’s hand,
look them in the eye and hold your shoulders back”, as Anthony Jenkins
remarked, matters just as much today as it ever has done; and possibly, given
the difficulties of finding a job these days, even more so.   But it is more than that. You can’t just
turn those manners on for a job interview, or hope to pretend them in the
office, without living them every single day. 
Putting up a front soon becomes obvious and it will come back to haunt
you; a lack of integrity is useless.  You
need to be living in this way right now, learning from the age of 13 or 14.  There is no point in picking and choosing
characters to be friendly to and to chat with, or to ignore and to shun.  This cannot happen in the world of work – you
will be required to work alongside people with whom you do not necessarily hold
much in common, or even like, but you have to learn to be civil, to be
friendly, and to do all you can to understand them.  You cannot shake a firm hand with some; and
turn your back on others.  At your age,
this is much harder to understand, but please do be conscious of it and practice
it.  Let it become part of your
personality, to be friendly to all, and not just to some.  There will be people in this room who you do
not have time for right now; well, they may very well be the ones interviewing
you for a job in a few years’ time.  Aim
to be friendly to all and your kindness will be repaid one day.


Back to all news