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Lessons from the Road: Soft Skills Yield Smashing Results

Soft Skills Yield Smashing Results

This is the second part of a three-part blog series on youth career development by Clinton Nellist from Road to Employment, a project developed by two post-secondary graduates who travelled across Canada exploring youth unemployment and underemployment. For more about their project visit

i-repair, 2014. Retrieved from

i-repair, 2014. Retrieved from

The year after I graduated from university I worked at my local mall selling cell phones. One day a customer came in interested in the new iPhone. We really hit it off and she ended up buying from me despite the fact that there were eleven other cell phone stores in the mall. The customer wanted to go with Apple Care, but I convinced her to opt into our in-store warranty program, not because it was better, but because it was my job. She was reluctant but trusted my judgment and signed on.

A few days later she messaged me saying that she was having problems with her touch screen. I told her to come in and I’d take a look. On her way into the store she fumbled with her phone in the parking lot and SMASH! She dropped it right on its face and cracked it into a million pieces. She came to me in tears already knowing what I had to say. The warranty I sold her did not cover physical damage. There was nothing I could do to help. That was one of my worst memories of that job and this situation still ranks as one of the hardest moments of my career.

Anyone who has worked in retail or sales can understand that managing peoples expectations and concerns is one of the hardest jobs there is. Then why do we refer to these universally important skills as soft skills? Soft skills are often contrasted against hard skills, which is technical knowledge. I’ve also heard of soft skills referred to as essential skills.

BT Group, 2015. Retrieved from

BT Group, 2015. Retrieved from

Now, I may define myself as a youth, but that doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce about the days before iPhones and Twitter, when the only way you could connect with your friends was to call up their house and say, “Is so-and-so there?”

With growing automation and self-checkout counters at your local grocery store it’s getting easier to not have to talk with anyone. Though this may save time I ask, are we helping our youth develop the essential skills that they will need to succeed in the workforce by avoiding human interaction?


Ian VanHarten. 2016.

For youth looking to develop soft skills there is no better introduction than retail. I’ve heard from many people that if everyone was forced to work retail for at least six months the world would be a better place. In retail you learn how to build relationships, manage conflict, keep a level head during the busy times, deal with monotony during the slow times, and everything in between.

Low paying retail jobs have gotten a bad rep, but mine did play an important role in shaping my present relationships. So, next time you have the chance to go through the self-checkout, find a cashier and help them develop their soft skills by asking them how their day is. If you smile, I guarantee they will appreciate it!

PS – Never buy warranty that doesn’t cover physical damage. I don’t care how careful you are. Inevitably, everyone drops their phone.

For more on soft skills see: Careering, Soft Skills and Intergenerational Issues 

Clinton Nellist is a documentarian, keynote speaker, and co-founder of Road to Employment. After finishing an arts degree at the University of Victoria he struggled finding meaningful work. This turbulent transition inspired a cross-Canada tour to film and produce Road to Employment the Docuseries. Clinton is passionate about post-production, songwriting, and speaking with youth about career development. Connect with him on LinkedIn to get in touch!


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