Since the global pandemic, a wave of digital transformation programs has swept across all industry sectors.
Companies and organisations are automating and digitalising their business operations to compete effectively.
And with full employment prevailing in most economically advanced countries, this puts pressure on existing workforces to adapt to new ways of working in these constantly changing conditions.
The pressure is on L&D professionals to equip existing workers and their organisations with the right skills necessary to drive performance.
As a result, skill shortages are now firmly on the L&D agenda.
This necessitates getting the right balance between the delivery of soft skills and hard skills as part of an effective L&D strategy.
And that balance has changed.
Hard skills vs soft skills
Much has been written about the differences between soft and hard skills – some more helpful than others. It’s not a case of one or the other.
They’re both critical to any effective L&D program. You need both.
Hard skills relate to acquiring specific technical knowledge and job-related training.
These are usually measurable and reflect the achievement of meeting defined standards and performance levels. They can include speaking a language, operating a drill, compliance accreditation, the ability to implement SEO, developing code or working wonders with an Excel spreadsheet.
They’re often where L&D professionals feel most at home. Because of the definable and measurable aspect of hard skills, with their KPIs and performance-related variables, it’s easier to evaluate the overall performance of an L&D program.
Soft skills are harder to define. These are based on personality traits such as leadership, personality, communication or self-motivation.
And as we explore later in this article, delivering soft skills is hard!
Yet there’s increasing evidence that soft skills are now the focus of attention and can have a long-term impact on personal and organisational performance.
LinkedIn’s recent Workplace Learning Report supports this view. It identifies that artificial intelligence has automated many jobs and roles resulting in “the shelf life of technical skills is relatively short—less than five years—while strong leadership, creative, and communication skills are always in demand.”
This represents a sea change. Pre-pandemic, “hard” technical skills had a shelf life of 10-15 years.
We’ve noticed a similar trend in talking with our customers. Business leaders regard soft skills as an increasingly important aspect of effective learning and development.
However, this may be shared by some. We’ve identified a gap between providing the more traditional “hard skills” content L&D is most familiar with and the growing need to develop soft skills in the workforce.
Here’s how Chris Jones, Chief Executive at City and Guilds expressed this:
Unfortunately, some people believe that soft skills aren’t that important. However, almost every employer I’ve ever talked to about this disagrees. In a world where job roles are changing rapidly, soft skills will be one of the few constants….”
In this article, we investigate why this is the case and what L&D leaders and their teams can do to close this apparent gap between the two.
There’s nothing “soft” about soft skills!
Josh Bersin emphasises this point when talking about soft skills vs hard skills.
“Hard Skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn), and Soft Skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to obtain). The skills of the future are not technical; they’re behavioural”.
Bersin goes one further – referring to soft skills as “power skills” because “in reality, they are the skills that give you real “power” at work.”
CEOs and business leaders recognise that plugging technical gaps with hard skills is relatively easy by either hiring people who already have these skills or, more likely, upskilling existing employees.
“You can’t teach someone a soft skill such as “emotional intelligence” in the same way you can train them to work a machine tool. Soft skills are based on how we behave as human beings. These behavioural traits are the culmination of all our life experiences. Changing or refining these is a harder nut to crack”, stated Patrick Jocelyn, CEO of Omniplex Learning.
This is borne out by a recent LinkedIn Global Talent report which reported that 89% of recruiters blamed a lack of soft skills when new hirings don’t work out.
What are the critical soft skills employers look for?
Omniplex Learning has identified the 5 top soft skills and their associated behavioural characteristics based on our recent customer experience:
People who think creatively
- Think laterally and find new ways to solve problems at work
- Seek a better way by challenging established working processes
- Don’t accept the first solution – always see if this can be improved. Good enough, never is
People who can persuade others
- Lead by example
- Have the ability to win over managers, peers and colleagues to their point of view in a way that makes them feel they are part of the process
- Use coherent arguments backed by facts and data to support a position and overcome objections
- Identify the key opinion formers and focus on them to pull the rest of the organisation through endorsement
People who communicate and collaborate effectively
- Have an open and honest disposition that encourages engagement
- Are team players, demonstrating support for your colleagues
- Over-communicate using simple, precise language in short formats
- Don’t assume people have understood your point of view, even if they say they have Check for understanding and if necessary, repeat the messages
People who are flexible and adaptable
- Embrace new ways of working to get things done
- See acquiring new skills as a challenge they can rise to
- Willing to take on new roles
- Are curious about how they can improve their personal development inside and outside work
People who have emotional intelligence
- Have self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses
- Can empathise with other people’s positions and feelings
- Trust their gut feeling and act accordingly
Delivering soft skills as part of an eLearning program
Let’s get personal
Any successful organisation needs a culture whereby employees feel valued and confident in their work. L&D content must go hand in hand with an organisation’s culture and values, but as Josh Bersin points out, “companies like Facebook, Amazon Boeing, GE, and many others are not struggling with “technology strategies.” They are struggling with problems of strategy, ethics, culture, growth, and values.”
eLearning can help with this struggle with services such as Omniplex Learning’s bespoke content creation that can build course content to reflect an organisation’s culture, specifically addressing areas of corporate weakness.
Creating tailor-made L&D content and training focusing on personal development and relationships can train learners to use and adapt soft skills to reinforce corporate cultural values – especially where these have lapsed or are under threat.
Authoring tools such as Articulate 360 make it easy to create in-house tailored eLearning content specific to delivering personalised soft skills training.
Aligning the personal with the corporate
Corporate eLearning solutions, such as Docebo’s AI-based learning suite, make it easy to manage and measure L&D programs, ensuring the delivery of personalised soft skills training is aligned with organisational values.
In-house video content
The emotional nature of soft skills content can be brought to life using video. For example, with Vyond’s animated video software, anyone in-house can quickly and easily create video content that engages the learner.
Let’s play games
Gamification is a perfect way to bring soft skills learning to a higher level. Within Docebo’s Learning Management Suite, gamification methods such as interactive quizzes and competitions reward learners with points, badges and prizes based on soft skills training content. This creates an engaging, entertaining experience that learners will remember.
If you’d like to know more about delivering soft skills training, we support global organisations with all aspects of their digital learning programs.
Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how we can deliver effective soft skills training.