When you hear the term‘soft skills’, what comes to mind?
Easy skills that can be acquired by everyone? Simple life hacks that are of little importance? A way to describe skills that are not strong enough to have an impact in the business world?
Soft skills are worth £88 billion to the UK economy and unless these skills are improved, over half a million UK workers will be significantly held back on their job opportunities by the end of the next decade – The Development Economics Research Group.
So what are soft skills and why are they typically thought of as holding little value?
‘Soft skills’ is an umbrella term used for skills that characterise our relationships with other people; these skills are often associated with emotional intelligence (read our blog on emotional intelligence here) and they include skills such as communication, social grace, leadership and teamwork.
Soft skills can be hard to quantify and generally speaking, they are overlooked in favour of glossy technical and academic skills that are believed to be fundamental to business growth and success. After all, in the words of Peggy Klaus, “how can anything described as “soft” be valued in the hard-changing, results driven business world?”
When it comes to the value of soft skills it is easy to accept their lack of importance, as when they come face to face with the value of hard skills, they just won’t cut it – and with good reason. Why spend hundreds and thousands of pounds on further education if it’s not going to improve your chances of employability and put you at a greater advantage compared to your less educated counterparts? And of course, why recruit an individual who doesn’t have the technical skills needed to perform the roles and responsibilities associated with a job role? Needless to say, hard skills are extremely important to the functioning of any business, but that doesn’t mean to say that soft skills are obsolete in today’s business world.
When stripped down to the basics, all businesses’ are built around relationships: building relationships with co-workers, building relationships with investors and most importantly, building relationships with new and existing clients. If you have any hope of beating your competitors and maintaining a fully functional workforce, you will need to invest in the development of soft skills as without them, productivity will cease and the economy with a project on a downward spiral.
The problem: soft skills can be some of the hardest skills you will ever learn!
Why are soft skills becoming more important and why does a ‘soft skills deficit’ exist in the first place?
Further Education: With University attendance at an all-time high, an increase in workplace apprenticeships and an abundance of digital learning resources available, perhaps the increasing significance of soft skills in our society may be due to the fact that these skills will help to distinguish the great from the greater. If everyone’s technical skills are roughly on par with one another, the importance of other transferable skills will come into account. Research has found that the lack of business results encountered by executives stemmed from a shortfall in their soft skills, not their technical or professional expertise and thus, it is important that we prevent these downfalls from occurring if we are to save our economy.
The problem: Due to the increased value of further education, soft skills are often being overlooked by businesses in the pursuit of high talent workers. If someone is capable of obtaining a first class honours in X, Y and Z, surely they must be a great communicator too? Wrong.
The bottom line: Technical skills aren’t enough on their own; success requires more than knowledge alone!
By having the right balance between soft and hard skills, the skills gap is likely to decline and employees will be able to reach their full potential, creating a booming business in the process.
The Digital Era:
With the rise of social media and the ever-expanding development of technology and the World Wide Web, it doesn’t take much to point the finger at this medium as the root of our deficient soft skills.
If you can get away with only communicating with others from behind a screen, then you may as well save yourself the time, energy and effort of communicating with others in person, right? By working with colleagues’ online and delegating tasks digitally, that quantifies as sufficient team work, doesn’t it?
Although the digital revolution is great, it’s not without its pitfalls. Yes, it opens doors to business growth that were never possible before, yes it allows you to communicate with others from all over the world, and yes, it allows you to gain a wealth of new knowledge; but by no means is it superior to good old fashioned face-to-face communication and cooperation.
It has been found that the absence of soft skills is the reason why nearly 17% of 16-24 year olds are unemployed and specifically, the social media generation has been shown to demonstrate less than admirable oral communication skills. Is this because this generation is being raised on technology that prevents them from developing fundamental communication skills? Or is it just a standard generational difference?
In today’s society, the majority of us will spend at least 60% of our time communicating with others digitally – and the impact this has? You are prevented from experiencing real life situations that will enable you to broaden and develop your soft skills and you are prevented from understanding a whopping 70% of what people are saying as you are unable to interpret other cues such as body language. What’s more, online personas tell you nothing about a real person; a great digital communicator could be a less than great communicator in real life, so no wonder soft skills are on a rocky road.
Lack of Training:
Perhaps a fundamental contributor to the soft skills deficit in a business environment is the lack of training investment in this area. Research has found that 89% of Adecco executives believe that employer-based training is a viable solution to minimising this skills gap, and in order to enrich the lives and careers of millions of people, we need to promote and improve these skills as much as we possibly can.
The solution: In light of recent research on the importance of soft skills to the economy, the next step all businesses should take is to focus on how they can develop soft skills in their employees and give these skills the support they deserve. Give your employees the training they need, expose them to situations that will enrich their capabilities and concentrate on what this all draws down to… the success and sustainability of your business!
So what do you think – will soft skills impact the future of business? Will stronger, ‘hard’ skills always come out on top? Is digital technology and social media inhibiting our soft skill development? Will digital media ‘doom’ the soft skills of future generations and should training be implemented in schools to prevent this from happening? Do certain job roles require more soft skills training compared to others?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us your views @Masterclass_TRC
Author: Megan Lazenby, Online Marketing, Masterclass Training Ltd.