What are soft skills and why are they important in the workplace?

It’s not just qualifications and experience that employers look for in new recruits. Soft skills are becoming more sought-after than ever before. Deloitte report that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.

Collaborative problem-solving is set to become the most important skill in coming decades. Collaboration and problem solving require a soft skill set, alongside technical knowledge. Soft skills have long been recognised as being vital for successful leadership. They are now also being viewed as important throughout the ranks.

A whitepaper by digital learning business, Bray Leino Learning, points to technology, organisational change and the shifting workforce demographic as fundamental reasons why we are set to see a drastic increase in the demand for soft skills. Soft skills matter more now than ever before. 

Let’s take a closer look at what soft skills are, why they are so important and what is fuelling the increasing demand for these skills in business?

What are soft skills?

‘Soft skills’ is a term used to describe personal skills and social capabilities. It’s essentially the ability to interact amicably with others. The term sounds warm and fuzzy. A nice to-have. But soft skills are increasingly recognised as core competencies and essential in most roles.

Research conducted by the Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Melon Foundation, (as reported by the American Management Association), found that 75 per cent of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25 per cent relies on technical knowledge.

There are no qualifications for soft skills. They come from life experience. Soft skills aren’t always inherent and can be learned. However, the application of soft skills can’t be forced. Developing soft skills requires a certain amount of impetus from employees to practise and self-develop. See more about how businesses can help to teach soft skills here.

Essentially soft skills are all about your ability to deal with people. They determine how you interact with colleagues, managers and leaders in the workplace and with customers and other stakeholders. A deficit in soft skills in any business will undoubtedly have a negative effect.

Important soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy
  • Problem solving/critical thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Conflict resolution
  • Presentation and public speaking
  • Assertiveness
  • Positive attitude
  • Work ethic
  • Integrity

Why are soft skills so important in the workplace?

All businesses need good communication. Barriers to or a breakdown in communication lead to delay, missed goals, failure to deliver projects on time, potentially lost sales and low morale. Communication in business is a soft skill – it creates cohesion, ensures everyone is working towards the same goals and is the lynchpin of all successful teams.

Success in business is defined by employees who are adaptable, flexible, inquisitive and use their initiative. Great communication and harmony in a business increases the ability for teams to pull together in a crisis and overcome difficulties. Personal skills are at the heart of collaborative workplaces. Collaborative workplaces are more likely to succeed.

Consider the reverse for a second. Imagine a workplace where people don’t communicate or support each other. Poor communication leads to a lack of trust. People further distance themselves from one another. Morale falls through the floor. There’s no drive or work ethic. Customer service suffers. Employees leave. A lack of interaction (soft skills) stunts productivity, innovation and growth.

Why the increase in demand for soft skills?

The world of work is changing. We no longer live in a business world where employers focus on vocational training and hard skills. Micromanagement is no longer the norm. Diverse teams are the future.

Nowadays, successful employers are looking for people who can give their business a competitive edge. The most successful businesses understand that a diverse workforce is fundamental to innovation, coping with disruption and ultimately business success. 

For diverse teams to flourish they need to have people in them who have empathy, understanding, personal drive and the ability to problem solve and think critically. Soft skills are an essential component of successful diverse teams.

In addition, the workforce has to adapt to job automation. While it is estimated that robots will take over a third of jobs by 2030, most businesses still need the human touch. Robots are far from mastering that. Job roles will become more focused on the things that robots can’t do, and this means a greater reliance on soft skills.

With technology changing at such a rapid pace, businesses need a higher level of adaptability. Flexibility and adaptability are soft skills. Businesses with employees who can problem solve and adapt are much more likely to gain a competitive edge.

Does your business have a soft skills gap?

When your business has lots of people with technical skills, but an absence of personal and communication skills, then you almost certainly have a soft skills gap. According to MindTools, a business can easily identify if they have a soft skills gap by paying attention to these three things:

  1. If your business is great at winning clients, but not so good at retaining them
  2. If staff turnover is a problem and you have to keep retraining people
  3. If your business has lots of managers, but no real leaders

Ignore the soft skills gap at your peril.

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