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The Soft Skills Gap


young female professional in the office
Soft skills include communication, critical thinking, leadership, emotional intelligence, and other skills that help us navigate relationships with colleagues, customers, and others.

Young people entering the workforce today are evaluated differently than previous generations who were assessed mainly on their technical ability to do a job. Now, suitability is judged twofold:

  1. Do they have the competencies and knowledge required to perform? (hard skills)

  2. Do they have the people skills and personality traits needed to succeed? (soft skills)

Soft skills are more difficult to quantify and measure than hard skills but are increasingly vital in virtually every role and every industry.


Also called interpersonal skills, soft skills determine how we interact with others. They include communication, critical thinking, leadership, listening, dependability, emotional intelligence, and other skills that help us navigate relationships with colleagues, customers, and others.


The 2019 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends Report noted “most hiring and firing decisions come down to soft skills.”


In fact, 92% of hiring professionals surveyed for the report said soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills. After all, it’s one thing to know how to do a job – it’s another thing entirely to work well with others to accomplish goals.


Despite the growing significance of soft skills, many young workers are not meeting employer expectations. That same LinkedIn report noted the soft skills companies need but struggle to find are:

  • creativity

  • persuasion

  • collaboration

  • adaptability

  • time management

The scarcity is surprising because these highly transferrable skills allow young workers to stand out during interviews, negotiate higher wages and even secure better titles. In contrast, under-developed soft skills manifest as “unprofessional,” “rude,” “doesn’t work well with others” and other tags that hold them back.


someone with strong soft skills....engages in active listening, has polite interactions and provides helpful service, resulting in repeat business, increased referrals and a higher average spend per person – all key business drivers.

Let’s look at a role requiring regular interaction with customers as an example: Someone with weak soft skills will provide poor service, have more aggressive interactions and be less productive. While someone with strong soft skills, on the other hand, engages in active listening, has polite interactions and provides helpful service, resulting in repeat business, increased referrals and a higher average spend per person – all key business drivers.



So why the gap?


Part of the reason is a lack of appreciation for the necessity of soft skills. Some young people (and those who educate and train them) falsely believe if youth master their craft, their technical ability will propel them professionally.


However, if labelled with an “attitude problem” or another synonym for a deficiency in soft skills, they’re suddenly stalled. They can even find themselves shut out as early as the screening process, beaten out by peers who note their soft skills as qualifications and experience on their resumes.


Technology hasn’t helped either. As the need for in-person interaction decreases, so does our ability to manage social interactions.


This became particularly pronounced when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Many youth worked exclusively at home during a developmentally significant time in their career. There was little opportunity or need to practice soft skills like networking, public speaking or teamwork.


The good news is soft skills can be enhanced through everyday interaction. Like muscles, the more often soft skills are used, the stronger they become. They also strengthen with experience. It’s difficult for a young worker to know which soft skills to employ when faced with a situation they have never encountered. Once they do, they know for next time.


Formal training helps too. A variety of courses can develop soft skills like cultural awareness and conflict resolution to help youth increase the value they bring to the workplace.


Employers can help ensure the young people they hire are set up for success in this area too. It begins with clarifying the soft skills needed for roles and creating interview questions that solicit responses to measure these abilities. Of course, both steps should be protected against bias in the interest of equity. Employers can also invest in ongoing training to upskill and reskill their talent regularly.


When balanced, soft skills and hard skills create a well-rounded employee able to accomplish business goals.

When balanced, soft skills and hard skills create a well-rounded employee able to accomplish business goals. The systems to support hard skills have long been in place. Prioritizing the development of soft skills will help youth thrive in the workforce.


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