The importance of soft skills

The role of a human resources professional is diverse and, like many other industries, it has changed dramatically in recent years because of technology, the gig economy and globalisation, to name just a handful of influences.

Perhaps of the most marked changes for both potential employees and HR specialists in the past decade has been a changing attitude towards traditional tertiary education.

Amanda Woodard touched on this in her recent post for the Australian HR Institute’s magazine HRM when she stated there is evidence “most human jobs will be soft skill intensive.”

“Employers are shifting their focus towards candidates whose skills will allow them to work most effectively and adapt to the changing world around them,” she writes.

With more than 15 years’ experience in HR consultancy, WCA Solutions Principal Heather Warner agrees soft skills such as self-motivation, positivity, enthusiasm and ambition have become increasingly more important for employers seeking to fill a role.

In fact, the top 10 most popular training programs currently offered by WCA include six that are classified as soft skills:

  • communication
  • performance management
  • leadership
  • delegation
  • Myers Briggs Type Indicator®
  • change management

“WCA Solutions has developed a number of graduate programs for clients to address these areas and we are about to launch our Emerging Leaders program, for the next level up,” Heather said.

“We also specialise in advising graduates and those looking for work on the full range of skills and capabilities they can offer a potential employer – very often people will overlook these abilities when applying for a role, believing they are not as important to an employer as the tangible achievements traditionally listed on a CV.

“Job seekers who can identify and sell in their full range of skills & capabilities will find employment more quickly and probably adapt to working more readily.”

Heather also attributes the rising importance of these skills as part of the evolution of the economy and career cycle.

A 2016 study by LinkedIn found that Millennials will undertake four different jobs in the first decade after graduating from school or university.

“A college degree used to slot you into a 40-year career. Now it’s just an entry-level point to your first job,” Guy Berger, the LinkedIn economist who analysed the career trajectories of 3 million college graduates, told CNN Money.

“The best advice I can give anyone is to think about acquiring skills and knowledge that can easily be transferred from one place to another.”

Perth-based vocational education & training (VET) provider St Stephen’s College also touched on this in a recent blog article, giving seven ways VET combines both soft and technical skills to better prepare teenagers for the workforce.

“Technological advancements and globalisation have shifted the goal posts when it comes to the skills employers’ value most highly,” Heather said.

“People are changing their jobs and their careers much more frequently than ever before. This also means employers are dealing with more frequent changes to staffing.

“To reduce costs, build a strong culture of performance and success and maximise efficiency, it’s important employers now look beyond university grades and degrees and focus on the person as a whole, while also undertaking coaching and training to retain high performers for as long as possible.”