Employers Are Looking for Employees with Soft Skills

August 31, 2016

This piece comes to us via a daily email I receive from Wells Fargo.

Employers are struggling to find workers with soft skills, such as critical thinking, empathy, and the ability to get along with colleagues.

The Wall Street Journal cites a recent LinkedIn study that revealed 58% of 291 hiring managers believe the dearth of soft skills in the job market is hindering their firms’ productivity. Meanwhile, 89% of 900 executives polled by the Journal in 2015 said finding candidates with soft skills has proven very or somewhat difficult.

As the labor market tightens, businesses are spending more money and time on methods for screening and discovering candidates who possess skills that range from engaging customers in small talk or taking the initiative to lead a firm-wide project that requires reaching out across the invisible boundaries that sometimes divide teams.

According to the Journal, companies are saying they’re less inclined to provide training that could ramp up employees’ soft skills as they would with training for topics such as technical skills or industry licensure. In turn, this could be a driver behind the country’s high number of unfulfilled job openings, as reported by the Labor Department.

LinkedIn crunched data from its users’ professional profiles to find out which soft skills were most prevalent among users who successfully landed jobs they’d applied for. Here are a few of the leading attributes:

  • Communication
  • Capacity for teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Adaptability

To some, these skills might seem like a given. They’d ask, “How could you not know how to hold a conversation or engage in critical thinking to build an informed judgement?” But it’s not that easy for everyone. Some workers may be well-intentioned and interested in the success of their employer and would sincerely like to feel engaged with their peers—but the attributes required for these things need cultivation or awakening in order to shine through.

This requires critical (and new) thinking by employers. Technical and industry skills are essential; but how can you shift the priority so soft skills are factored into professional development plans and goals? In addition, traditional workplace training methods—such as webinars, workshops, or courses—can be convenient and effective. But if your goal is to bring out the best in your workers’ more nuanced traits and personalities, what’s the best method?

Here’s a good approach: According to Learning & Development, executives at British Gas view volunteering as a positive indicator of a job applicant’s soft skills. In fact, the company encourages its employees to take two days of paid leave to volunteer in their communities. Not only is volunteering a great thing to do, British Gas sees it as a way to develop soft skills, such as the ability to relate to customers.

If you can’t tell already, I’m a big proponent of the development of soft skills in the workplace. A major influence on my career came from my years of training in Boston’s improv comedy scene. While there’s no memorizing lines for an improv comedy show (scenes are 100% created from scratch), there are countless exercises, games, and practice sessions that stimulate the mind and enable new skills. In terms of soft skills, improv training enhances the ability to listen completely, present new ideas fearlessly, and think on your feet in high-pressure situations. And above all, it shows you the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of support within your team.

Much like British Gas’ focus on volunteering, these exercises bring about attributes that are good in the workplace and good in life.

John D. Natale

2 responses to Employers Are Looking for Employees with Soft Skills

  1. I agree totally. For several years I’ve been chatting with the professors at the local University and telling them that “People Management” is not a soft skill – it’s a must. The business classes all tend to focus on nitty-gritty specifics of various industries or roles (accounting, analysis, engineering) and virtually ignore training people in how to relate to others, build teams or simply resolve interpersonal issues in the workplace. Nothing great can ever be achieved without working with and through other people. We need to give them the training on how to do that.

  2. In my 36 year career in the Federal government, the biggest workplace problems were always people that couldn’t get along with each other. Job skills – being able to do the work – was rarely a problem.