While job seekers are prepared to share their tangible knowledge and technical abilities with potential employers, recruiters are increasingly interested in a job candidate’s interpersonal skills. These behaviors indicate how a person will function as an employee and fit into the company culture.
While soft skills like teamwork, communication, leadership, productivity and critical thinking are widely required by employers, they are inconsistently taught in high schools, universities and workplaces. When new hires lack the skills to write a professional email, communicate with their manager or prioritize tasks, it creates obstacles in the workplace.
Instead of presenting soft skills as desired qualifications of potential employees, we should promote their value and require all potential and current employees to develop and nurture them. In fact, when companies hire new personnel, these “employability skills” should rank as high as technical aptitude. Here are some of the reasons why.
Technology Creates a Demand for People Skills
Technological innovation can have a powerful effect on jobs. By 2030, according to McKinsey, 44% of current work hours will be automated. Although some jobs will be displaced, automation also creates new positions and modifies existing jobs. For example, when ATMs were introduced in the United States, bank teller positions were expected to become obsolete. However, competition among banks led to a need for more tellers, but their roles had evolved. Instead of dispensing cash, tellers were tasked with and trained in providing high-quality service to potential and current clients.
In the future, rote activities will continue to be replaced by machines, and worker responsibilities will shift. Employees will spend less time performing duties that can be done better and more quickly with a machine and more time applying expertise to solve programs, interacting with stakeholders, and managing and developing people. By 2030, workers will need to increase their social skills, emotional intelligence and cognitive capabilities, which will change how companies hire, educate and assess their workforce.
As businesses embrace the benefits of automation, training the workforce for redeployment will be essential. Mid-career job training will be necessary, but we will need to adopt a new educational model. According to McKinsey, educational and workforce training models have not fundamentally changed for 100 years. Companies still use systems designed for an industrial society to prepare workers for a knowledge economy. McKinsey suggests that through programs like the GI Bill, the U.S. government can play a part in establishing programs to quickly reskill the labor force, and businesses also can add on-the-job training through in-house programs and education provider partnerships to upgrade their employees’ skills.
Soft Skills Trump Technical Talents
Describing skills like communication, teamwork and leadership as “soft” promotes the impression they can be trained and adopted with ease. While we can introduce these skills in a classroom or through reading, they are often difficult for employees to develop.
Soft skills are acquired through process and habit change, and they can require years of practice, experience and feedback to master. While technical skills can get a new employee’s foot in the door, the inability to interact and collaborate with others can put limitations on his or her success.
It’s important for companies to continue developing their talent. Employers often support the technical skills training to stay competitive, but soft skills development ensures your employees remain relevant to the core values of the company, closes the proficiency gap in the company’s workforce and keeps workers employable.
Today, many people recognize that soft skills are marketable abilities. Half of the recent college graduates who responded to MindEdge Learning’s second annual “State of Critical Thinking” survey said that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Of those who said one or the other are more important, 31% said soft skills are more important than hard skills. Each year, LinkedIn shares the skills companies need most, which it determines by analyzing thousands of LinkedIn job postings to determine the skills that companies are looking for and the demand relative to their supply. In 2019, the list of top soft skills include creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management.
Under Armour (UA) is one company that considers an applicant’s soft skills in the hiring process. Brian Johnston, UA’s director of e-commerce engineering, said that while hard skills are “an important facet of any candidate, we value ingenuity, passion for technology and strong cultural identifiers far more.” Thinking big, inspiring others and being a great teammate put job candidates on the right path.
Your Leaders’ People Skills Reflect the Company Culture
Soft skills are not only vital to personal growth; harnessing emotions, leading different personalities, handling rejection with grace, adopting self-discipline and being empathetic are all traits of successful leaders. When leaders have highly developed people skills, it shapes company culture.
Leaders use their behavior, communication and perspectives to create a positive working environment. Instead of a command-and-control workplace, effective leaders understand and cultivate an atmosphere of innovation, development, purpose and coaching.
According to Gallup, “70% of the variance between lousy, good and great cultures can be found in the knowledge, skills and talent of the team leader.” When leaders can improve their employees’ confidence, help them learn from failures and empower them to reach their goals, it sets up an opportunity for a great company culture.
When managers incorporate soft skills into their leadership approach, employees feel valued, they have a sense of acceptable standards, it helps them stay motivated and their engagement with the company improves. When organizations function well, they compete on a much higher level. For example, the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada study, produced by Aon Hewitt and the Queen’s School of Business Centre for Business Venturing, ranked businesses on their employee engagement scores. The study’s data shows that organizations with the most engaged employees achieve 65% greater share-price increase, 26% less employee turnover and 15% greater employee productivity.
Deloitte’s 2017 “Global Human Capital Trends” report states, “Ninety percent of companies are redesigning their organizations to be more dynamic, team-centric, and connected,” and their leaders are challenged with mobilizing and executing these new models. As workplaces evolve, people will be at the front of new method of operations. It only makes sense for companies to invest and develop the employability skills of their people.