What’s holding your employees back from that big promotion, a next-quarter raise or their dream job down the line?

It’s probably not their technical prowess in data analysis, software proficiency or knowledge of digital marketing (not that those skills aren’t important). More often, it comes down to communication, collaboration and other interpersonal skills: Approximately 89% of recruiters say these soft skills — or the lack thereof — are the main culprit when new hires don’t work out.

In today’s digital landscape, it’s crucial for employees to possess a balance of hard and soft skills that mature as they progress in their careers. Micro-credentials and other certification programs can provide flexible learning opportunities for employees to build on both sets of skills.

As businesses adapt to hybrid work models and adopt more sophisticated technology, they need to foster well-rounded employees who have the potential to lead within the organization. Employers who prioritize hard skills over soft skills in upskilling initiatives set themselves up for long-term challenges.

Too often, companies find themselves with teams that don’t mesh, projects that don’t get off the ground and leadership opportunities left vacant — and a lack of soft skills is to blame. Don’t let your organization fall into that trap.

How Soft Skills are Shifting in the Digital Workplace

Hard skills enable employees to do their jobs. But it’s the soft skills that allow employees to excel, teams to perform at their highest level and organizations to thrive. In fact, 92% of organizations say soft skills are just as important, if not more, than hard skills. It begs the question: Why do organizations still struggle to find employees with strong soft skills?

Part of the problem lies in the fact that hard skills are more tangible and offer a more immediate payoff than soft skills. It’s easier to determine whether someone knows cloud computing architecture or how to program using Python. When companies have a specific task or job that needs to be done, hard skills are seen as more valuable, easier to measure and more feasible to find.

Soft skills, however, add value that grows over time — empowering individual employees to adapt to challenges, lead among their teams and advance as they progress in their career. But they are also much harder to assess. How do you gauge whether someone will get along with others in the office or adapt to challenges on the fly? Because these skills don’t necessarily show up on a resume (or even in interviews), recruiters have a tough time finding new hires who are adept in these areas.

That’s where learning and development (L&D) opportunities like micro-credentials and other certificate programs come into play. Micro-credential programs provide short units of learning in a specific subject area — enabling companies to upskill employees and enhance in-demand skills in a short period of time.

While a software engineer or financial analyst typically needs a post-secondary degree (and years of education) to learn the hard skills of their job, micro-credentials are much more suitable for employees looking to build a specific skill set over time. Whether it’s learning empathetic leadership or how to manage remote teams, these targeted courses are perfect for fostering soft skills that empower employees to advance their careers and the organization.

Building a Well-balanced Workforce

The options for credentials programs are endless: There are nearly 100,000 credential courses offered in the U.S., and non-academic courses, trainings and certificates are the most popular options for adults considering additional education. More than one-third of adults plan to enroll in such programs over the next five years.

As you look to strengthen your workforce, consider how micro-credentials and other L&D opportunities can help develop employees’ hard and soft skills. While that may look different for every organization, here are three considerations when determining how to better support employees’ career development.

1. Match market needs.

The market — and the skills that companies need to thrive in it — are constantly changing. For hard skills, the rapid evolution of technology means that employees must continually learn the latest coding language, data analytics tool or marketing platform.

But the digital workplace has also shifted the demand for soft skills. With many employees splitting their time between home, the office or somewhere else, soft skills must adapt to the increased role that technology plays in daily work. For example, interacting in a Zoom meeting or messaging via Slack looks a lot different than a conference room discussion or stopping by someone’s desk to talk.

Ask yourself: Do your L&D opportunities match the current market and its needs? Have you adapted programs to the shifting needs of the remote and hybrid workforce? What courses or support do you offer to employees, and are they both engaging and relevant? Take stock of the current market, adapt as demand changes and provide opportunities for your employers to fill emerging gaps.

2. Offer flexible options.

Your employees have calendars full of meetings, plenty of work on their plate and busy lives outside the office. Micro-credentials and other development programs are a time investment to be sure, but they shouldn’t add stress. Fortunately, online programs offer greater flexibility than ever before — allowing employees to complete courses based on what works best for their schedule.

Ask yourself: Are you making the most of the wide range of online courses available? Do you support a mix of programs offered by higher education institutions, third-party partners and internally developed self-paced courses? Are you providing the time and support for employees to take on additional training outside of their day to day work? Promote flexibility and offer the full spread of available learning options — or your employees may find an employer that will.

3. Foster lifelong learning.

Most skills aren’t developed overnight or even over the course of one program. It takes years to build a repertoire of relevant skills and expertise — and even then, the learning process never stops. You should strive to build an environment of continuous growth and development by fostering opportunities for lifelong learning. Doing so will benefit both your employees and the bottom line.

Ask yourself: Are there opportunities, encouragement and institutional support for all employees in your organization to develop and grow? Do you have offerings for short-term upskilling and long-term education? Are you talking with your employees about their career paths or specific goals they’re working toward? In particular, L&D benefits — including paying and providing time off for certifications, seminars and training programs — can help.

There’s no single skill set that will ensure your employees succeed in their roles. In reality, it takes a combination of hard and soft skills that build on one another for an employee to live up to their full potential. The more opportunities your employees have to develop versatile skill sets, the more they can advance.

Whether it’s strong interpersonal skills or critical thinking that can tackle any problem that arises, soft skills are universally applicable in the modern workplace — and they ensure that employees can succeed as the market transforms in the coming years.

How are you setting your employees up for long-term success?