For years, hard skills have been the sole focus of career training. It’s a single-minded approach that has cost companies billions of dollars in lost revenue. And it’s why today’s employers can’t afford to ignore soft skills any longer.

In this post, you’ll learn the value of soft skills in the modern workforce and how you can bring high-quality, low-cost online soft skills training into your organization.

 

According to the National Soft Skills Association, 85% of job success is related to soft skills.

What Are Soft Skills?

Broadly classified, soft skills are a combination of personality traits, social attitudes, and work habits. These skills, such as communication, empathy, leadership, and time management, enable your employees to work well with one another and grow professionally. 

You’ll find much debate surrounding the term soft skills. Many would prefer calling them real skills, human skills, or baseline skills. Consider Seth Godin’s thought-provoking article Let’s stop calling them soft skills.

Godin talks about how the term soft skill fails to do these competencies justice because they’re hard to acquire. He also mentions that calling them soft skills makes it easier for us to move on to something seemingly more important.

 

The U.S. Army created the term soft skills in the late 1960s to refer to skills that didn’t involve machines. In his article, The Origin of Soft Skills, Joe Wright noted that the military had done an excellent job training troops on how to use machines to do their jobs. However, they discovered that much of what made groups of soldiers victorious was leadership—skills the military wasn’t training for at the time.

What Are the Top Soft Skills?

Soft skills are applicable in every industry and every work environment. There are, however, soft skills that make more sense in some jobs over others. A salesperson, for example, needs more interpersonal skills to succeed than a mechanic. Generally speaking, these are the top soft skills you should be hiring and training for:

• Effective Communication (e.g., listening skills, speaking skills, and writing skills)
• Teamwork (e.g., conflict resolution, intercultural competence, and interpersonal skills)
• Problem-Solving (e.g., resourcefulness, troubleshooting, and critical thinking)
• Adaptability (e.g., trainability, growth mindset, and cooperative)
• Creativity (e.g., innovation, curiosity, and open-mindedness)
• Time Management (e.g., prioritization, organization, and deadline-driven)
• Work Ethic (e.g., dependability, punctuality, and integrity)

Soft Skills by Occupation

Business Development
Individuals who work in business development need a charismatic personality to garner new clients and generate sales. It’s a disposition that necessitates a unique blend of soft skills, such as:

• Confidence
• Persuasion
• Relationship-Building

Customer Service
Customer service representatives are the face of their companies. They’re the ones who interact directly with customers, so they need to have the right soft skills to keep patrons happy, which include:

• Active Listening
• Empathy
• Problem-Solving

Human Resources
HR professionals wear multiple hats at work. From interviewing applicants to planning company events to handling sensitive situations, these individuals need the right combination of soft skills to succeed in their role, such as:

• Organization
• Problem-Solving
• Conflict Resolution

Manufacturing
While technical skills are the core of manufacturing, those who work in the field must be able to troubleshoot, adapt to new technology, and tackle complex projects as a team, which calls for soft skills such as:

• Critical Thinking
• Desire to Learn
• Teamwork

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

Soft skills are innate proficiencies that shape how employees work on their own and with others. While soft skills come naturally for some, others develop them through personal and professional experiences.

Hard skills are technical competencies that allow employees to carry out specific tasks. Employees acquire these skills via formal education or on-the-job training.

Some say hard skills generate job offers and soft skills create career longevity. Then, there are those, such as Herb Kelleher, who believe the opposite.

Herb Kelleher, the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, coined the adage “hire for attitude, train for skills” in the late 1970s. For him, a sense of humor was at the top of his hiring criteria. He wanted his employees to have fun with customers. Kelleher also believed that failure to nourish people with great attitudes undermines creativity, productivity, and morale.

So, whether you value hard skills over soft skills or vice versa, one thing remains clear. These skill types work best together. Because even in highly technical fields, soft skills are essential to positive outcomes. In other words, what good is a technical genius when they can’t get along with others and refuse to attend meetings?

Should You Hire for Soft or Hard Skills?

Generally speaking, your goal should be to hire someone with the right balance of hard and soft skills for a position. Unfortunately, it’s rare to find this balance in an applicant, especially when there’s a labor shortage.

But let’s imagine you have two promising candidates for a position—only one has better technical skills, and the other has better soft skills. Whom do you choose?

More times than not, the candidate with better soft skills is your best bet. Why? Because soft skills are difficult to develop and take longer to acquire, whereas it’s typically easier to teach someone technical skills. Furthermore, when you hire someone who lacks integrity, adaptability, empathy, and the like, you risk bringing your other employees down.

Keep in mind that your soft skills candidate must have the capacity and motivation to learn the technical skills they lack.

 

Google interviewed hundreds of its employees and poured over data involving its more than 100 teams. What did they discover? The secret to team effectiveness is being nice. They found that the best teams respect one another’s emotions and believe all members should contribute to the conversation equally.

Why Should Employers Care About Soft Skills?

Traditionally, companies have paid less attention to soft skills because they’re tougher to teach and harder to measure when compared to technical skills. As of lately, however, these competencies are finally getting the credit they deserve.

In its 2019 Global Talent Trends report, LinkedIn identified soft skills as the biggest trend transforming the talent landscape, with 80% of respondents saying soft skills are critical to a company’s success and 92% saying they matter as much or more than hard skills. Also, 89% of recruiters said when a hire doesn’t work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills.

Additionally, research from the Stanford Research Institute International and Carnegie Melon Foundation found 75% of long-term job success depends on soft skills.

All in all, soft skills are essential to retaining a competent, productive, and satisfied workforce that keeps companies competitive and ensures long-term success.

Closing the Skills Gap

For many companies, soft skills are in short supply. And it’s not because they haven’t taken steps to try and combat the problem. They just haven’t been successful in their efforts. But why is there a soft skills gap in the first place?

Traditionally, higher learning institutions have fallen short in terms of soft skills curricula. And as a result, countless newbies are entering the workforce without the problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership skills necessary for long-term career success.

Furthermore, companies have started to automate routine tasks, and the jobs that remain available require employees to have empathy, critical thinking, and other soft skills that technology can’t easily simulate. Thereby, employees who’ve spent years working with machines and data instead of people find themselves struggling or out of a job.

According to PwC’s 2021 CEO survey, 77% of respondents believed the biggest threat to their businesses comes from underdeveloped soft skills. Furthermore, a report published by Deloitte Access Economics and DeakinCo states that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.

When companies ignore soft skills in their hiring efforts and training initiatives, they experience more than just a skills gap. High employee turnover and low customer retention also come as a result.

Here are some tips you can use to close the soft skills gap within your organization:

• Closely evaluate an applicant’s soft skills during the hiring process.
• Apply strategies that specifically address soft skill gaps.
• Implement multiple training strategies for employee development.
• Update and/or replace learning opportunities regularly.
• Meet with management to discuss the benefits of soft skills.
• Establish metrics for tracking the success of your efforts.

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

Yes! With the right training and coaching, employees who have an open mindset can develop soft skills. But unlike hard skills training, which often occurs in short stints, soft skills training takes repeated and continuous effort. Sure, some people have personality traits that make it easier to develop soft skills, but they must hone their skills over time.

According to an article published by Harvard Business Review, while intelligence quotient (IQ) is difficult to change, emotional quotient (EQ) can increase with deliberate practice and training. Research shows the human brain can change and adapt as a result of experiences. So, through training, employees can develop new behaviors and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, few are seriously willing to try.

Thereby, to successfully teach your employees soft skills, they must be willing and motivated to participate. They also need to be flexible and willing to accept all forms of feedback. After all, one of the best ways for employees to develop soft skills is by being aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

 

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Soft Skills Training Benefits

Your company has a lot to gain by treating soft skills as it would any technical skill. After all, soft skills training creates a win-win situation for all parties involved. While it enables your company to boost productivity and profits, it makes your employees feel more valued and vested in the organization. According to Go2HR, 40% of employees who don’t receive adequate training end up leaving their job within a year.

Here are specific benefits of soft-skills training:

• Employees with good time management skills are more productive and efficient.
• Employees with interpersonal skills collaborate better and reduce disruptions.
• Employees who can think critically develop creative solutions for setbacks.
• Employees with intrinsic motivation need less oversight and management.
• Employees can better adapt their behaviors to teammate needs.
• Employees can discern workplace culture and display appropriate behaviors.

Soft Skills Training Infographic

How to Deliver Soft Skills Training

Making soft skills training part of your company culture takes time and energy, but the rewards are indisputable, from increasing productivity to boosting employee morale. Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. Perform a Skills Analysis
Before you bring soft skills training into your organization, you should do a skills analysis of your workforce. Look at past performance reviews to see if you can identify any weaknesses related to soft skills. Also, consider how your employees respond to emails or in team meetings. 

2. Communicate With Employees
Before planning for skills training, you need to communicate with your employees, and it’s best to take a top-down approach. You need to help them understand the business case behind skills training, how it will benefit the company, and how it will impact them personally.

Also, as part of the communication process, you must assess the cultural landscape of your business, accounting for employee behavior at every level. By doing so, you can gauge the company’s readiness for change, identify potential roadblocks, and create relevant solutions right out of the gate.

3. Consider Learning Styles
As you develop your soft skills training plan, remember that everyone learns differently. So, consider conducting a survey that asks employees how they learn best. After all, there are visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and reading/writing learners—some individuals may even need a combination of learning methods to retain information.

If you can, it’s best to use a combination of short, on-demand skills courses, one-on-one mentoring opportunities, group training sessions, and hands-on workshops. Overall, your soft skills training should be flexible, frequent, and ongoing.

4. Make Time for Training
Give your employees time for their skills training during work hours. While this is often a source of hesitation for companies, you’ll find the return on investment for skills training is immense when done consistently.

A survey conducted by Boston University, Harvard University, and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan found that self-awareness and soft skills training produces a 256% ROI, based on an average rate of 12% higher team productivity and retention.

5. Hold Learners Accountable
Make your employees accountable for their soft skills development by following up with them accordingly. While informal discussions are okay, you should consider a formal process that factors training goals into annual performance evaluations.

Turnkey Soft Skills Training

180 Skills can provide your company with high-quality, low-cost online soft skills training. Our turnkey solution is great for onboarding new hires and upskilling employees at all levels of your organization. We have a vast selection of short-term, self-paced skills courses in our content library that cover topics such as:

• Communication
• Critical Thinking
• Problem-Solving
• Stress Management
• Team Building
• Time Management

Ready to Start Soft Skills Training for Employees?

Employers use our soft skills training for their employees in various ways. Some use it as on-demand training for filling skills gaps on an individual, case-by-case basis. Others use it for roles or departments that require skills that are hard to come by in the local workforce. And then, some organizations use it to embed skills training into their company culture.

Request a demo to see how 180 Skills can bring high-quality, low-cost soft skills training into your organization.

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