While the U.S. Labor Department has reported a growth in jobs in 2019, we still have a long way to go to close the skills gap and set our workforce up for success in today’s rapidly changing economy. As technology continues to revolutionize the way we work, success and mobility in the workforce will be determined by a new mix of skills. For businesses looking to retain and retrain employees while maintaining their competitiveness, there is a refined set of skills they cannot overlook.

Employer emphasis is often on developing hard skills, like computer science and data science, but it’s critical not to discount the importance and marketability of soft skills. Burning Glass Technologies, in partnership with the Business-Higher Education Forum, examined 150 million job postings to determine the skills employers are seeking in today’s job market. They found that three key categories of skills, which they dubbed the “New Foundational Skills,” will be essential to job mobility and success as the labor market continues to evolve. Human skills – their term for soft skills – weighed heavy and necessary for access to a wider pool of employment opportunities.

Today’s In-demand Jobs Require Soft Skills

Critical thinking, persuasive writing, communications and teamwork have shifted from nice-to-have to must-haves. They’re hard-won and rigorously maintained abilities that all employers value in today’s job market. In fact, Burning Glass’ report found that human skills were requested for 60% of job openings in cities (of 600,000 residents or more), compared to 47% of job openings nationwide. This finding indicates that in large population centers, where pay is typically higher, having strong human skills is a clear differentiator.

Corporate data backs up this story as well. In 2017, Google released the results from an internal study that looked across its teams to identify the most innovative and productive groups within the company. It found that its best teams weren’t the ones full of top scientists. Instead, its highest performing teams were interdisciplinary groups that benefited from employees who brought strong soft skills to the collaborative process. Further research revealed that important predictors of success at Google are skills like good communication, insights about others and empathetic leadership.

It’s not just tech companies that are finding value in these types of skills. A Twitter poll by edX found that people think teamwork and collaboration are the most helpful soft skills in the workplace, followed by critical thinking, public speaking and persuasive writing.

The Employer’s Responsibility in Training and Development

As online courses and programs that teach and refine soft skills become more prominent, it’s imperative that employers take advantage of these resources. With competing forces, such as the skills gap, rising student debt and changing millennial needs in the workplace, companies need to seriously think about how they can engage their workforces by giving them continuous opportunities to grow their skills in order to stay relevant and feel valued. This investment will increase employee engagement and overall satisfaction.

Offering workers opportunities that help them build and improve their soft skills can support greater retention and ensure that your workforce has the skills necessary to be competitive. A relatively cost-effective way to do it is using e-learning that enables employees to learn on the job while consuming high-quality, rich and engaging course materials. With online programs, employees also have the flexibility to both customize their learning while still having access to on-the-job training.

Having strong soft skills – especially when paired with equally strong hard skills – makes for an in-demand, well-educated working professional. It’s a skill set that is applicable to every industry and an L&D investment that makes good business sense.