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Soft Skills, High Stakes

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In a world that is increasingly turning to new technology and digital solutions for strategic insights and advancements, it is clear that the once rigid skill sets that determined your career path or business success are no longer enough on their own.

 

While you may have obtained a tertiary education or developed a trade for a specific profession or skill, the technical demand for your expertise will increasingly be less important in the face of overwhelming demand for softer skills that are important for all occupations and industries.

No matter what your business card may say, you are no longer only a builder, an architect, a pharmacist, manager or sales person. This current fast-paced environment requires and demands interchangeable skills that can be applied to any job, to any facet of your role or the roles of those around you. These interchangeable skills are soft skills.

Don’t let the name fool you – the soft skills needed to excel in today’s workplace can be the hardest to teach and, increasingly, the hardest to find.

In an era when companies are striving to become more efficient through the use of technology and data, it’s easy to dismiss the abilities that come with soft skills such as relationship building and collaboration as ‘desirable’ but not ‘expected’ skills. However, efficiency alone is no longer enough to make an organisation or individual stand out. Innovations and a mindset set on utilising every opportunity are what it takes to stay ahead.

According to Deloitte Access Economics recent report ‘Soft skills for business success’, a quarter of entry-level employers report having difficulty filling vacancies because applicants lack employability skills (Department of Employment 2016).[1] These reported gaps are not just reportedly significant across one range profession or industry, in fact they are a problem that spans across the board. In a new analysis of data from Workible, an online search tool, Deloitte found that demand for self-management, digital skills, problem solving and critical thinking skills (measured by skill requirements listed by employers in job listings) significantly exceeds supply (measured by skills listed by employees in résumés). The difference between demand and supply is as large as 45 percentage points for communication skills.[2] Clearly, there is a sizeable gap between what industry is increasingly looking for and the capacity of skilled workers to meet these changing demands.

Into this gap is falling wasted opportunity, unrealised innovation and unexplored expansion. Evidently, the stakes for not paying attention to the changing attitudes around soft skills could not be higher.

The statistics coming out of studies such as Deloitte’s are beginning to reflect another, more alarming gap. This gap is between who are paying attention to the changing skill landscape and those who are not.

Those who pay attention now to the soft skills of themselves and their team can expect to take advantage of the shifting importance of soft skills across a range of areas. Conversely, there are hefty consequences for those who do not.

For one, those paying attention will be ahead of the curve and will be attracting the right workers to plug the current soft skill gap. The demand for soft skills is expected to steadily increase.[3] Soft skill intensive occupations are growing 2.5 times more quickly than more other occupations. They also outnumber more technical roles and by 2030 are expected to account for two thirds of all jobs in the economy.[4] By not paying attention to this trend now, you are setting yourself and your business up for a failure as traditional industry and its workforce numbers decline and new industries and mobile workers move in to take their place. Not paying attention now means missing the boat on the talent coming through your industry that could revolutionise your business.

Secondly, they will be financially better off. According to Deloitte, $4 billion per year is spent on training and $7 billion is spent on recruitment each year by business.[5] That’s a total of $11 billion in annual expenditure on business training and recruitment alone. By objectively measuring soft skills  in addition to hard and technical skills, forward-thinking businesses will be able to identify gaps in their organisation and make more strategic decisions about how to invest effectively in building their capabilities in years to come. Without this equal focus on soft and hard skills, individuals and businesses will suffer as more money and time is spent on hires that are right on paper, but wrong in practice.

Lastly, they will be more prepared for future changes. Those who invest in soft skills now will be able to reap the individual and company-wide benefits of having an appropriately skilled workforce that is fluid, mobile and genuinely loyal to their employer. Recent modelling has suggested that almost 40% of jobs in Australia have a high probability of being substituted with computing over the next 10 to 15 years (Durrant-Whyte et al. 2015).[6] Those who do not prepare for this inevitable change now will be left behind with a workforce unable to cope with the pace of change and a set of skills unchanged to match the demands of the future.

So, nothing less than the performance of your entire future and organisation is at stake. Soft skills represent the core values of yourself and your business. They are the drivers of your internal motivation and your business. They are the very foundation upon which all other technical or ‘hard’ skills are built and developed upon. Without them, you will continue to stand on uncertain, shaky ground.

There is no competition between hard skills and soft skills. They are both essential and play important roles in development of your career and the success of your business. However, by neglecting your soft skills and those who you employ around you, you are selling short the future of your own success and the success of your business.

To start focusing on soft skills and ensuring your individual and organisation-wide success, both Thrive Alliance and LMA have a range of short to longer term courses that can help you to achieve your goals. To learn more about how a better understanding of emotional intelligence in the workplace can continually develop the soft skills of your leaders and team members, visit Thrive’s list of short courses here. For a course designed to develop the ‘total person’ through permanent behavioural change and a deeper development of soft skills, learn more about LMA’s The Performance Edge course.

[1] Deloitte Access Economics “Soft skills for business success”, DeakinCo, May 2017, p1

[2] Deloitte Access Economics “Soft skills for business success”, DeakinCo, May 2017, p1

[3] Deloitte Access Economics “Soft skills for business success”, DeakinCo, May 2017, p7

[4] Deloitte Access Economics “Soft skills for business success”, DeakinCo, May 2017, p33

[5] Deloitte Access Economics “Soft skills for business success”, DeakinCo, May 2017, p33

[6] Durrant-Whyte, H., Steinburg, D., Reid, A., McCalman, L. and O’Callaghan, S 2015, “The impact of computerisation and automation on future employment” Australia’s future workforce, Committee for Economic Development of Australia.