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Soft Skills Training For That Competitive Edge

16 Sep 2021
Karen Kerr

An overwhelming majority of those who completed our recent HR survey said they recruit as much for soft skills and cultural fit as they do for qualifications. 

75% of respondents said this had always been the case, but it seems from recent research that finding and retaining people with those soft skills is not easy. 

According to a survey undertaken by the Wall Street Journal, 89% of Senior Executives said that they found it challenging to find people with the right soft skills such as communication and critical thinking. 

Other vital skills like adaptability were also in short supply, crucial in the incredibly challenging current climate.   

So we have taken a look into what soft skills are in short supply, what companies are looking for, and some of the approaches you can take to soft skills training to help your teams. 

Why Are Soft Skills Important?

As I'm sure you know, soft skills are based on personality; communication, critical thinking, innovation etc., and hard skills are the technical skills you've learned to do your job. The challenge for softer skills is the inability to measure and quantify them.  

However, research from Stanford University has shown that long term success in any job is predominantly based on mastering soft skills and is only around 25% based on the acquisition of good technical skills. 

Another fascinating study explored the concept of training adults to acquire the right soft skills to improve performance. MIT undertook a 12-month research project in partnership with Indian garment manufacturer Shahi Exports. 

They wanted to train the factory workers to improve their softer skills, which might not immediately seem practical given the repetitive nature of the production line.

The training focused on skills like communication, problem-solving and execution excellence, among many others. There is, obviously, pressure on a production line, there are deadlines to meet, and if there are efficiencies and improvements to be gained, every opportunity should be welcomed.

The results were awe-inspiring. Compared with the control factory, those receiving the softer skills training delivered a 250% better return on investment. It was widely believed that much of this return was the result of improved efficiencies in productivity. Complex tasks were completed quicker, and retention was enhanced during the implementation of the training. 

So providing the proper training for soft skills can have a significant impact on your business bottom line. But more importantly, it has a positive effect on your employees too—the sense of achievement and contribution recorded in the study profoundly affected other areas of their lives. 

The majority of those taking part in the study were women, and they were inspired to request hard skills training and to start saving money for their children's education. 

There is the well-founded notion that as more and more skills are automated, the future of our workforce will depend on the softer skills that a machine can't replicate.  

However, before you can provide training for softer skills, you need to understand what they are and which ones will add value to your employees and your business.          

Also Read:

Soft Skills in Demand

The top soft skills that were in demand in a report out by McKinsey this year highlighted, 

  • Communication
  • Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity. 
  • Ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity              

In addition to these LinkedIn also adds in: 

  • Emotional intelligence 
  • Collaboration 
  • Persuasion 
  • Adaptability

Acquiring these skills

So how do you acquire these skills for your business? The same McKinsey report suggests that most companies in Europe will achieve this through a balance of hiring and training.

Hiring 

Acquiring the right talent with the soft skills to make a difference in your company is not easy but incredibly important. Attracting the wrong personality traits for your business will likely impact delivery and communication with your customers, and just as significant, it will almost certainly affect the rest of the team, both personally and professionally.

So take some time to understand the type of person and the soft skill to help your business. Develop the competency-based questions to suit and even think about assessment centres

These can sometimes be out with your team's capacity, but the cost of the wrong hire could be even greater. Creating a role-play scenario and enlisting the support of a recruitment team like ours at Eden Scott could give you some fantastic insight into the emotional intelligence of a potential employee.

We also use Occupational Personality Questionnaires (OPQ) to help our clients get to know the personality and the skills of any potential employees joining their team. They will give some analysis and provide the potential areas for development for your existing team.       

Soft Skills Training 

As mentioned, the other approach is soft skills training to help your team to develop the attributes that could really benefit your business. There are a few different approaches, including:

Coaching

Coaching is a fantastic way to inspire collaboration and help employees, often the younger employees, uncover the skills they perhaps already have. Coaching can often be beneficial when the employee lacks leadership or communication skills (which often go hand in hand).  

Coaching itself is about setting targets and then encouraging your employee to find the solutions by asking the right questions and offering guidance, providing constructive feedback as required. 

Role-play

Everyone learns and develops differently. For some, the visual and active nature of a role-play can help them develop the understanding and skills they require. The pressure of the situation is more relevant than notes in a book or online resource.

If, for instance, you are trying to instil better collaboration amongst colleagues, such as the team on the production line in the earlier example, you can create several scenarios and even gamify them to encourage employees to work together. 

There is a level of consistency required here. Providing one role-play training session once a year is not going to create the results you need. Acquiring the right soft skills takes time and a dedicated approach to build the habits of success. 

Virtual Reality 

Many tools are available that can create a range of scenarios where your team will require a specific soft skill. Whether a customer service problem or a teamwork issue, virtual reality and augmented reality can create bespoke scenarios for your business; more beneficially, they can start to provide some data on your team's progress. 

There is a considerable investment required for this solution. Still, the results in individual progress and the fact they can start to track their performance make it a very attractive solution. 

Developing Softer Skills

There is a benefit to businesses in having a team with the right soft skills. Businesses are crying out for employees who have the leadership, communication and collaboration skills, amongst many others, to find the efficiencies they need to be competitive. 

So despite the compulsion to assess potential candidates on their technical skills alone, it will benefit your business long term if you can hire for, and provide the right soft skills training to enhance your business.

Author

Karen Kerr
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