Last year a British Chamber of Commerce Workforce survey highlighted that 57% of UK employers felt that a lack of soft skills such as communication, resilience and team working were the main reason why young people are unprepared for the world of work.

Another report prepared on behalf of McDonalds UK suggested that the ‘soft skills’ deficit is set to cost the UK economy £8.4 billion per year in 2020 in lost production if it is not addressed now. The company estimates that over half a million (535,000) UK workers will be significantly held back by the soft skills deficit by 2020, which will affect all sectors of the economy. To tackle this, it suggests that individuals, businesses, education institutions, and policy-makers should take action to recognise and promote soft skills.

Unfortunately, many employers often overlook the importance of employees needing softer skills in the workplace in favour of technical skills, even though research suggests that soft skills can be a key differentiator in how well a company performs. However, whether someone is just starting out in their career or is the CEO of a large organisation, soft skills are as necessary as technical ability to ensure they, or the organisation they lead, reaches their full potential.

What are the core ‘soft skills?’

The National Careers Advice Service highlights that soft skills are transferable skills that can be used across a variety of job roles and that it’s the personal qualities and attitudes that help people work will with others and make a positive contribution to the business. They suggest there are 10 core soft skills that people should aim to develop during their careers, including communicating, making decisions, flexibility, time management, accepting responsibility and being a team player.

These often intangible qualities can be harder to assess than someone’s qualifications and technical skills, but they are increasingly sought after as more business leaders are recognising their importance. Even at senior level softer skills can often be deemed of lesser value than behavioural skills, which are more about how someone goes about their job, engages with colleagues or influences their teams to get the best out of them.

However, to be a successful leader people need to have a broad mix of hard and soft skills.

The 2015 Talent Shortage Survey from recruitment firm Manpower Group found that more than one in five hiring managers (22%) say that lack of experience is behind current global talent shortages and 17% report a lack of workplace competencies. The most frequent soft skills deficits are lack of professionalism (6%) and lack of enthusiasm, motivation and a learning mind set (6%).

According to Recruiter Magazine soft skills are “hot right now, and modern professionals looking to advance their careers need to make sure they have the soft skills that employers are looking for.” They suggest the top four soft skills all professionals need to be able to master are: Leadership skills, Collaboration Skills, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills and Communication Skills.

Tackling the soft skills deficit will be a priority for many companies in 2016 as these skills inadvertently complement hard, technical skills and help companies retain business and promote long-term sustainability. Undervaluing the importance of soft skills can mean companies having problems retaining clients or having a high staff turnover, meaning they waste resources having to keep retraining people.

They may also have a management function that lacks effective leaders if soft skills are overlooked when recruiting or promoting people.

To this end we have developed a new ‘soft skills’ assessment, as part of our Management*KNOW series, to help organisation’s identify and address any gaps in their employees’ core soft skills including communication and interpersonal skills, decision making and teamwork – areas which may be holding the company back.

This assessment provides management with the insight and analytics around the specific gaps their workforce may have in certain soft skills areas, allowing them to plan appropriate training and resources to address specific needs. It enables companies to evidence both the competence and confidence across management and leadership teams, meaning their workforce improves and maintains the desired skillset across the following areas:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Teamwork
  • Time and self-management
  • Decision making and initiative taking
  • Taking responsibility
Companies seeking to develop their employee’s softer skills will find this assessment invaluable for highlighting skills gaps, in what is traditionally a tricky area to assess. They will then be able to put in place specific trainings strategies to plug any gaps and helping to make their employees and ultimately their company the best they can be in 2016.

By Mary Clarke, CEO, Cognisco