Pursuing Soft Skills in an Era of Digital Hyperdrive
Pursuing Soft Skills in an Era of Digital Hyperdrive

by Valentin Vasilev, Content Editor

Soft skills like creativity, adaptability and persuasion are gaining ever more importance in the increasingly tech-dominated workplace. At the same time, recruiters and HR experts are pointing out a “soft skills gap”, especially among younger workers who often have advanced technical expertise but lack interpersonal skills.

The gap is there”, says Kyle Lagunas, principal analyst at talent management consulting firm Lighthouse Research & Advisory. “Most colleges aren’t building out the skills students need to become value-added employees.

The 2019 Global Talent Trends report released by LinkedIn offers a few glimpses of companies’ struggles to hire soft skills and the growing importance they attach to them. About 91% of companies cited this as an issue and 80% of those polled admitted that they are finding it difficult to source better soft skills in the market. Furthermore, 92% of companies said soft skills are more important than technical skills and 89% stated that unsuccessful hires typically don’t have soft skills.

LinkedIn’s report is not the only piece of research indicating the dearth of these desirable qualities among today’s employees. According to a 2013 survey by Adecco Staffing USA, 44% of senior executives identified a lack of soft skills as the biggest gap in workforce skills in the United States.

This gap is turning soft skills into key differentiators among recruiters and is forcing companies to hire candidates who don’t possess these abilities.  

A key ingredient for innovation

Some might ask whether organisations really need soft skills. These abilities seem easy to downplay in an age when companies are more focused on deploying technology to optimise their business processes, increase efficiency and cut costs. Yet soft skills are indispensable for companies wishing to create an environment in which talented employees wish to stay and feel their ideas will be acknowledged and acted upon.

No matter how much employers expand their use of technology, AI and cloud platforms can’t inspire colleagues, charm potential clients or come up with creative new product ideas. And being a good team player may be more important than ever when remote workers and global teams are a factor”, Livia Gershon wrote in an article for the BBC.

Efficiency and innovation each require a different mindset, “and what unites both is learning”, Edward D. Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (US), told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “We want people who can continuously learn with others in teams. That gets into all the soft skills. If your advantage is going to be outthinking competitors and dealing with customers, you’ve got to have soft skills.

Can you measure interpersonal grace?

One of the biggest challenges facing recruiters and HR experts today is assessing soft skills, which has proven notoriously difficult. Consensus is yet to be reached on the best way to judge them.

Judith Hale, who specialises in performance improvement, claims that soft skills are not actually soft—they are simply ill-defined. “The process of measuring them, then, begins by defining exactly what you mean by the behaviours, characteristics or attributes that demonstrate the skill in question”, she wrote in an article for the Association for Talent Development. Ms Hale highlights two tools—performance checklists and rubrics. These can help trainers define soft skills in ways that are specific to a particular work context, but trainers need to know exactly what each tool does. Checklists establish whether a behaviour is present or absent, but they don’t measure the quality of the behaviour. Rubrics, on the other hand, measure how well the learner puts the behaviour into practice.

There are also AI-based tools, like Pymetrics, which collects behavioural data using neuroscience exercises, or Koru, which subjects candidates to a 20-minute assessment and sends automated customised feedback. These tools are improving constantly but are still being used sparsely by recruiters. According to the LinkedIn research, most companies still rely on behavioural questions (75%) or simply body language (70%).

But despite the availability of various tools, there is hardly a one-size-fits-all way to evaluate soft skills because these qualities are subjective in nature, especially when examined through the lens of a specific company’s culture, industry etc.  

It’s different for every organisation”, says Lagunas, the analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. “And HR is the best place to figure it out”.


If you want to learn how to address the soft skills gap, join us for an exclusive masterclass “Leveraging Talent to Adapt to Business Needs: Addressing the Soft Skills Gap” in Vienna on 12 September 2019.