Soft Skills are Hard to Find

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Group of people, labelled, Don't call them Soft Skills, these are Lifelong Skills

Soft Skills are Seemingly Impossible to Find

Finding qualified applicants with soft skills is difficult, according to numerous HR surveys.  This shortage in soft skills in noted in the recent LinkedIn ‘Future of Skills’ report.  Focusing on the Asia Pacific region, it cited the challenge in finding candidates with such necessary skills as critical thinking/problem-solving, adaptability and flexibility, communication, leadership, innovation and creativity. 

The World Economic Forum’s ‘The Future of Jobs’ report further clarified the skills gap, “While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them.”

Per the Society of Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) ‘2019 State of the Workplace,’ so called “soft skills” that candidates were missing included: 

  1. Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity (37 percent);
  2. Ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity (32 percent);
  3. Communication (31 percent).

It seems a misnomer for these essential workplace skills to be labeled as soft.  These are skills that SHRM points out are necessary regardless of “industry or job type.”

Strength in soft skills is the foundation upon which employee productivity, engagement, and performance flourish.  It is how leaders and departments excel and organizations prosper and grow. 

Technical expertise, alone, is no longer enough.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation points out in their ‘Bridging the Soft Skills Gap’ report, “Even when applicants make it past the interview process, employers are coping with new hires who are unsure of how to write a professional email, struggle to organize and prioritize tasks, or have a difficult time collaborating with coworkers. … Somewhere along the road from education to employment, the system is not routinely equipping all students with all the skills they need to succeed.”

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

Let’s be honest, soft skills have been dismissed for years because of the word “soft.”  It has been a tough sell for employees who view “soft” as unnecessary or weak.  After all, hard skills or technical expertise is generally what leads (and pays) in job ads and interviews. 

Education has also evolved into building specialized technical capabilities for most of the workforce, again, tied to the highest paying occupations.  It is only at the C-suite/executive education level that soft skills were viewed as valuable.  How to lead, inspire, motivate, evaluate data, handle complex situations, manage change, make wise decisions, plan strategically and innovate has been the domain, until now, of upper management. 

Everyone else was to do as they were told or trained—merely act as the support team for their leadership.  Don’t think, follow the leader.  Following orders without question, in the past, defined being a good employee/good soldier.  If no “uniquely human” skills are required, the jobs held by these kind of employees are the ones that will be quickly replaced by AI and automation.  

There is also this common myth that soft skills are innate, part of someone’s personality, rather than learned.  Think of “natural born leaders.”  It is assumed that a person, somehow, just rises to the occasion when given greater responsibility. 

Another misnomer is that soft skills are developed through standard higher education. 

Research, however, has revealed that regular vocational, college or university coursework does not instill soft skills nor does on-the-job experience.  The array of soft skills that are in demand, with the implementation of AI and automation in the workplace, must be specifically taught to be developed. 

And, yes, soft skills can be taught.  We have the metrics that prove it.

Soft Skills for the future. Worker silhouetted in front of large projection of graphics and robotic tools

Soft Skills are Lifelong Skills

One of the trendy phrases that go along with the “future of work” has been “lifelong learners.”  Basically, the workers who will be the most productive in the future are those that embracing continuous learning.  In the future, technology will only be consistent in that it will always be changing. 

Employees that will thrive in this new workplace will be those who are agile and flexible in their approach to working. 

Obtaining a four-year degree or a certification in a trade will only be the first step.  This education in hard skills will be fleeting.  Average shelf-life is approximately 18 months for technical skills.  To remain competitive, employees must retrain in their hard skills, over and over.  Be lifelong learners.

Reskilling has become a necessity already embraced by the most tech forward companies.  Per the Times Higher Education, Amazon announced that it will spend $700 million over 6 years to retrain a third of its US workforce, “Amazon explicitly attributed its move to the rise of automation, machine learning and other technology: the so-called fourth industrial revolution. There was a sense that the pioneer of online retailing, famed for its use of automation, was merely an early accepter of an inescapable truth that all employers will soon have to face: that the skills of their existing workforces will no longer have any market value as their old roles are taken by machines and new roles are created. The company reportedly has 20,000 current vacancies.”

The CEO of a tech company once shared with me that he couldn’t allow his IT help desk staff to speak, directly, with his customers.  He had to hire customer service people to buffer communications from his techies, “since they would tell customers that they were stupid.”  While these tech employees were highly skilled at solving technical problems, they lacked the soft skills for interacting with customers in a professional manner.

Soft skills should be, more accurately, referred to as lifelong skills. 

Much as upskilling/reskilling is more marketable to employees as lifelong learning, soft skills are perceived, more positively, when known as lifelong skills.  These are the skills that allow a workforce to obtain the most value from their hard skills.  Skills that will travel from company to company for the lifetime of an employee’s career.  For employers, it’s having your cake and eating it, too.  Where once these skills were necessary only for the select few that would move on to managerial responsibilities, now, they are required throughout an organization in order to remain competitive in an increasing fast-moving and complex marketplace.

Join us in promoting lifelong skills!

A Turn-key Solution

INSIGHT Development Program provides the complete package of training and development to optimize your talent pool.  

It’s affordable and scaleable.

Fast and easy to implement.

How do you know if your soft skills training program is working?  Integrated pre-and post-training evaluation to measure performance and progress provide all the ROI tracking needed.

From management to front-line staff, our online modules strengthen core skills and mindset, at all levels.  Designed for teams as well as individuals, these self-learning modules can be offered as stand-alone, self-directed curriculum or act to supplement existing L&D programs.

Call us today at 650-697-5628 or Contact us  to learn more about solutions to your retraining and upskilling challenges. 

This article was contributed to by Dee August, Ph.D.

High Tech worker pointing to digital screen labeled Critical Thinking and the Future of WorkWhy Critical Thinking is the Top Soft Skill 

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