Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are making a meaningful impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is David Collins and I’m the president and chief executive officer of the TRACOM Group. The TRACOM Group, in short, is a leading provider of soft skills training on a global basis. We’ve literally trained millions of people all over the world on soft skills. We call those soft skills social intelligence. We’ve been doing it for more than 50 years and our programs are now used in 100+ countries worldwide and delivered in 20 different languages.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I came into the training and development industry totally by accident. When I left college in 1989, I went to Syracuse University, I thought I was going to be an entrepreneur and open Domino’s franchises. What I discovered is that the franchise world wasn’t for me. By accident, I ended up joining a training and development company in New York City called PC Etc. that specialized in teaching people basic computer skills in the late 80s and early 90s. What I learned about myself is that I absolutely loved the ability to change people’s lives through knowledge and education. Through that initial experience, I found myself working for a couple of different training companies before I got an opportunity to join TRACOM Group.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
To be really simple, at the core of our company, we believe that improving a person’s understanding of themselves and others absolutely makes the world a better place. Our company has been around for 50 years. Through research and experience, we uncover hidden barriers that prevent people from achieving their maximum potential. Not only do we find those hidden barriers, but more importantly, we identify how to overcome them. At the end of the day, what we do is we synthesize our discoveries into actionable learning programs and resources that improve people’s performance in all parts of their lives.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
The impact we’re making, we think, is rather large. The demand for soft skills in our economy and across the world is hugely on the rise. For a long time growing up, I was taught that the world was all about technical skills and technical skills are what mattered most. But as the economy has been changing and globalizing, what we’re finding is so much of the work that has traditionally been done by people is being automated and outsourced in many ways by artificial intelligence.
What’s happening in the modern workforce is that people are looking for things that only human beings can do – our ability to be interpersonal nurturers, to relate with one another. There are a lot of really interesting studies that are out there. In the Wall Street Journal, you’ll find studies that show 92% of executives are now saying that soft skills are as important or more important than technical skills. Deloitte is predicting that soft skill-intensive jobs are going to be growing 2.5x faster than others. And one study in Australia showed that almost two-thirds of all jobs will be soft skills intensive by 2030. So the world is changing very, very radically.
One of the things that’s going on, and that really inspires us, is if you look at the generations that are coming up today, at a time where being human is more important than ever before, we’re actually doing a worse job of teaching our kids soft skills as they’re growing up. Interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate with one another, to connect with one another, to adapt to all the change and the negativity around us, and to be able to innovate, are all skills that are in super high demand and we’re doing a really, really poor job in teaching those.
One of the markets we serve quite a bit is the academic market – the college and MBA levels. What they’re finding is that soft skills, in particular, are among the most wanted out in the marketplace and they’re among some of the hardest to find. If you think about it, because of the advent of technology, texting, and all the social media tools out there, we spend less and less time actually interacting with one another as people. I think when you combine that with everything that’s going on in the world today with COVID, and all the other changes that are happening, kids are growing up not being able to see emotions in other people’s faces as they’re walking through the store hiding behind masks. We are seeing people deal with unprecedented change and challenges and you’re seeing things like depression, suicide rates, divorce rates, in general anxiety is going up tremendously across all people and very strongly amongst the younger generation just coming up through high school and entering the workforce for the first time.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’ll be really honest with you, I have three kids who are all in their early 20s. I’ve watched all of them and their friends grow up in this digital generation. I’ve seen some kids go through life really well and succeed. I’ve watched some kids really struggle and find a way to make it through, and I’ve watched some kids really have a hard time and never quite get launched. So I’m very focused not only on the generation that’s in charge today, but if you take a look at how quickly things are changing, and look at the world environment around us, we’re very dependent upon the next generations that are coming behind us. So much of what we do and so much more focus on is making sure those generations have the skills that are necessary for them to succeed not only in the work world but also in their personal lives.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My big dream is for people to understand how much control they really have. Most people go through life oblivious to some of the influences that really have an impact on how they think and react the way that they do.
Just as a simple example, if you get a call on a Friday late in the afternoon, and it’s your boss and you’re not expecting it, where does your mind go? Your mind typically goes to something that’s really bad that’s about to happen. “Why am I getting a call at 4:00? Here comes the bad news: I’ve got to work this weekend, get ready to get laid off, the company’s getting ready to pass through a 20% pay cut.” Those are the very first things that enter our mind. That’s just one example of so many cognitive biases that are out there.
When you can become aware of some of these things, you can be more proactive in thinking. “Geez, I wonder why the boss is calling? Let me turn off that evil part of my mind and let me listen open-mindedly and find out that I shouldn’t give myself so much undue stress, because my boss was simply calling to thank me for a very long, hard week’s work, and to let me know that they couldn’t get by without some of the things that I was doing. Just to express some appreciation and gratitude.”
That’s just one of a thousand examples that we all run through our minds all the time which causes problems for ourselves that simply don’t need to be there.
I believe if we can make people aware of the harm that they cause themselves because of these gut reactions, then we can make the world a significantly better place.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
Honestly, we’re at a transition point, where being human matters more than ever before. We’ve got to go out there and actually show people that soft skills matter. We have to show people that soft skills are trainable and show people the impact that can be had by developing these skills and the huge difference it makes at work and at home. For us, it’s all about spreading the word and getting people to experience what we do.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Quite frankly, the work we do matters. A lot of people think “soft skills” is a buzzword. It’s something people talk about, but they haven’t quite come around to the fact that it matters. I can tell you unequivocally that soft skills deliver hard results back in the workplace whether it’s how well you communicate, how resilient you are, how integrated you are, or how well you connect with people. We’ve seen in all the research that we’ve done that soft skills significantly improve performance. People do better in their jobs. They’re seen as better leaders. They’re able to sell more, and they’re better able to move up the organizational structure and get promoted over time. If you think soft skills are not for you, you’re really missing out on what the future is all about.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I don’t know if I necessarily have a favorite quote or words of inspiration. I’m pretty simple. Where I come from, it’s really up to you to decide. So you can either choose to continue doing what you’ve done and you’ll most likely get the same result you’ve always had. Or, you can take a look and say, “I’m willing to try something a little bit different, to see if I can get to where I want to go.”
I can tell you in today’s world, the ability to learn and to be adaptive and to try is supercritical. So if you haven’t opened up your mind yet, you should. I think what you’ll find is by taking that first step or two, the world will really change for you.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Others can support us by learning a little bit more about our company and what we do. One of the things we’re very proud of here at TRACOM is a program we run called TRACOM Cares. Through that program, the same great training we provide for corporations, government entities, and organizations all over the world, we provide complimentary to college students, nonprofits, and other organizations with an army of volunteers out there who help us. We have more than 4,000 instructors active at any time across the world who we’ve certified on our products and programs. So for anybody who wants to learn more about us and our TRACOM Cares program, I’d encourage you to go to spend some time on our website.
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