Why Soft Skills Are Hard to Find

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

as seen in Employee Learning & Development Excellence Magazine

Identifying the attributes for short-term and long-term business growth

It’s still true that most people are hired based on their technical know-how and qualifications. Hard skills obtained through years of education, training sessions and on-the-job experience are quantifiable and obviously vital.
But the need for soft skills, which some like to call people skills, is more important than ever.

In a LinkedIn report, 92% of talent professionals said that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. And a staggering 89% reported that when a new hire does not work out, it is because they lack critical soft skills.
Soft skills including empathy, adaptability, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking are required for a post-pandemic workplace to move beyond the upheaval and turmoil and settle into a new environment.
They are important too for the long haul because they provide “career durability,” says Alexandra Levit, a workforce futurist and author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future.

“For someone to be successful 10 years down the road, they need to be resilient and be able to reinvent themselves in different learning environments,” she adds.

What should the HR professional bear in mind when assessing the relevance of soft skills in recruitment and talent development?

1. Look Close to Home

One easy way to identify the soft skills that have the most impact is to look no further than your organization’s top-performing and most respected employees. Assess what characteristics and qualities they share that serve them and the company well. Also, get managers to go back through past performance reviews to identify an individual's strengths and weaknesses in soft skills.

2. Get Management Buy-in

Ensure senior executives are on board by consulting with them, asking what they regard as the employee soft skills they value the most. You want to be marching to the beat of the same drum from day one.

3. Build a Team

Developing the right kind of soft skills in the workforce is not an undertaking for HR alone. To champion the cause, put together a team of about ten people from different departments and functions, who have individually displayed strong soft skills.

4. Never Forget Your Culture

What is your core corporate culture? What is your purpose? Your values? If teamwork is a primary value, for instance, make sure it is taught in the soft skills training programs.

5. Communicate

Since the workplace has expanded to the home environment—and remote work to one extent or another will remain with us—the ability to communicate clearly and effectively has grown. It is a fundamental skill that underlies everything we do. 

6. Consider Gen Z

The pandemic, which enforced remote learning and dramatically increased work from home, may have short-changed members of the Gen Z generation, especially when it comes to soft skills.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that half of the employees from Generation Z felt burned out from work versus one-fourth of Baby Boomers.

And a survey of more than 2,400 Gen Z students by online platform Tallo discovered that 92 percent could confidently identify the soft skills they possessed (or didn’t possess) and by and large recognized what they needed to do to acquire missing abilities. Thirty-seven percent selected “stepping outside of your comfort zone” as the best way to develop soft skills while 15% chose to be open to feedback, and another 15% chose to communicate often.

They can acquire those skills with the right kind of leadership and training, says Neil Khaund, president and CEO of The National Society of Leadership and Success.

Khaund wrote, “Gen Z values ethical, servant leadership that supports them and helps them develop their skills now and into the future. Leading through empowerment allows Gen Z to flourish and develop their skill sets while building trust along the way. By doing so, organizations prepare Gen Z for success, and they also create a culture of learning that can benefit the overall organization.”

The outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent Great Resignation gave greater relevance than ever to the role of HR professionals in recruitment, internal talent management and succession planning. The ability to identify individuals with an abundance of soft skills will become increasingly important.