There’s a ‘soft-skills gap’ in today’s youth, but Scouting is helping to close it

Today’s employers are looking to hire someone with problem-solving skills, a strong work ethic and the ability to work in a team.

“Sounds an awful lot like the traits we develop in Scouting,” says Peter Boll.

When he’s not working as communications coordinator for the American Camp Association’s New England chapter, Boll is an assistant Scoutmaster. In both of his jobs — paid and volunteer — Boll is laser-focused on introducing young people to purpose-packed adventures in the outdoors.

Because he knows that Scouting offers more than just incredible experiences. It helps prepare young people to succeed in life.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, today’s hiring managers value “soft skills” far greater than technical skills or computer skills.

Technical skills can be learned. You can memorize business jargon, learn how to operate an expensive piece of equipment or master a complex computer program in a few weeks or months. Learning skills like leadership and teamwork? That takes time. That takes the kind of immersive experiences you can only find in Scouting.

“During my summers spent as a camp administrator at Treasure Valley Scout Reservation, I learned very quickly that the work we were doing was about so much more than providing a fun and exciting experience for campers,” Boll says. “It was about compounding the values of Scouting that had been being taught in the background all year long.

“I can recall so many instances of parents and guardians who thought we had replaced their child with someone else at the end of their experience. In just one week, their child had become more independent, more self-reliant, more communicative, and gained more confidence than through any other experience they had encountered.”

The ‘soft-skills gap’: It’s real but can be closed

Search Google for “soft-skills gap” or browse the business section of your nearest bookstore, and you’ll see countless books and articles about this relatively new phenomenon.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation writes that these soft skills, including communication, critical thinking, collaboration and time management, are essential in any career — regardless of the field.

“The importance of these skills is widely acknowledged,” the article states, “yet they are not taught with consistency or given prioritization.”

Except in Scouting.

“Every troop meeting that a Scout is asked to lead the opening at, every campout that a Scout gets dripped on because they didn’t set up their tent correctly, every service project that they are asked to volunteer at — they are building soft skills. They are building character,” Boll says. “I think it is undoubtable that today’s society and today’s youth need Scouting now more than ever.”

Put down phone, pick up skills

In survey after survey, more than 40% of employers say they’re not seeing the communication and teamwork skills they need.

“It’s what you might expect since relationships of teens and young 20-somethings are primarily screen-mediated, and many Millennials and members of Gen Z seem to prefer phones to people,” Boll says.

Scouting doesn’t guilt-trip young people into putting their phones down to live in the moment. It inspires them to do so by offering experiences they won’t get anywhere else. (Then they can hop back on Instagram on the drive home to share these moments with friends.)

‘A paradigm shift’

The camping and leadership opportunities that have made the BSA such a critical part of our country for the past 100-plus years haven’t changed a whole lot.

What’s different is the way we should present those opportunities to families, Boll says.

“It has been my belief for a while now that the way we ‘sell’ Scouting to today’s generation needs to almost turn itself around,” he says. “In the past, parents wanted their children to go out in the woods and learn all the hard skills — building fires, tying knots, doing things on their own. Leaders always knew that in the background they were teaching Scouting’s core values.

“Now, though, the focus, the buy-in, are those core values — building character, self-resilience, sound decision making, etc. And we do that through things like building fires, camping, tying knots. Nothing has changed, it’s just a paradigm shift. The aims of Scouting are still what parents want. They just need to be sold them more directly.”

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.