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The Importance of “Soft Skills”

In a previous publication by Joubert & Associates in February 2021, the importance of skills development as a form of human capacity development was emphasised. The focus of the aforementioned article was on the development of employees through skills development to improve their competency profile and enhance their quality of future career prospects in relation to compliance with the Skills Development Act. However, not all skills development needs to be formalistic in nature and reported on. Employers should not only aim to develop their employees to comply with legislation, but also to ensure their employees have a holistic batch of skills that can catapult them to operating at their optimum.

How often have you sat in a meeting or interview and heard a colleague or manager utter something about someone lacking “soft skills”? Why does this act to limit an employee’s career growth? How can we overcome this? We all know the importance of having skills and competencies related to performing tasks specific to your job, but generally, high performers and top achievers have a strong combination of occupational as well as soft skills.

What do soft skills refer to?

First and foremost, soft skills refer to skills that are not job-specific, but rather are transferable and can be used in any instance and are relevant for any job regardless of position or level in the organisation. Soft skills are people-focused and communicative, and can thus be used anywhere, not just in the workplace and when performing work-related responsibilities. According to People Scout, a popular international talent organisation, soft skills are “a combination of people skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes and career attributes, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence quotients that enable employees to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.”[1]

Soft skills can include, but are not limited to, communication (speaking and listening), conflict management and resolution, negotiation, persuasion, openness to criticism, problem-solving, decision-making, attitude, work ethic, time management, critical thinking, networking, adaptability, teamwork, leadership qualities, empathy, resourcefulness, creativity, interpersonal relationship management, stress management and organisational skills, to name but a few. These skills vary in their nature as mentioned above, such as communicative or intelligence-based.

Why should employers care about enhancing the soft skills of their employees?

Every job, regardless of industry, occupational level or responsibilities, requires some form of communication, the ability to manage one’s time, solve problems, make decisions, work with others in a team and maintain professional interpersonal relationships. With the increasing nature of knowledge work in the 21st century (those whose main capital is knowledge and includes a great variety of decision-making, problem-solving, analysis, theory and strategising over physically producing tangible goods), the importance of possessing strong and proficient soft skills is becoming increasingly vital. And the demand will only increase! When hiring employees, employers are increasingly focusing not only on the ability to do the job, but more so on the value that someone can add to their organisation. The common understanding is that occupational skills can be taught, and while soft skills can be enhanced, organisations are looking more for culture fits to their organisation than focusing solely on one’s occupational abilities.

The difference between an average employee and a top performer is usually their ability to utilise their available competencies in their repertoire, and use it well. All employees are expected to manage their tasks within a dedicated timeframe (working hours), but employers look for people who know how to prioritise and meet deadlines, while still producing quality work. When comparing two employees or candidates for employment with the same qualifications, skills and experience, more often than not, the one who is able to articulate their answers, engage constructively, maintain flexibility, demonstrate dominant leadership qualities and emotional intelligence skills, for example, is the preferred person.

Having employees who are able to excel in their role and within the organisation is not possible without having intense and convincing skills. Having a battery of these soft skills in one’s arsenal is only a small part of it. Being able to read situations, understanding the skills and one’s ability, knowing when to use certain skills, how to leverage them effectively and achieve one’s objectives is just as important, if not more so, in the success of employees. Well-rounded, skilled, emotionally intelligent personnel are your A-Team and top performers that go the extra mile.

The power of strong communication skills cannot be underestimated. Communication, not only speaking but also active listening, can be indicative of other social skills, such as empathy (active listening, not interrupting someone when speaking, engaging with others, etc.), negotiation and persuasion skills, verbal reasoning and ability to understand language/words, conflict resolution, etc. Having employees who are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and creative people result in innovative solutions, ideas and offerings. In the highly dynamic, tech-driven world of work, there is no shortage of demand for innovation and new ways of operating, making flexibility and adaptability crucial. In this idea-world, collaboration to develop solutions and create new offerings is more important than ever, making the ability to work cohesively in a team and maintain interpersonal relationships vital for organisational growth.

Leadership trends have also changed over the years, from transactional and transformational leadership, to authentic and value-based leadership. Employees value leaders that are compassionate, empathetic, understanding, communicative, emotionally intelligent, people-focused and relationship-based. Employees and organisations want leaders who trust, respect and value their employees over the bottom line (profits). This is how employees’ soft skills can be leveraged to utilise the technical and operational skills in an effective and efficient manner.

What one can surmise from this, is that there is an intensifying focus on soft skills in the workplace.  Therefore, the need to possess a variety of these skills, should not be underestimated.

Follow for Part 2 of the newsletter next month which will focus on the practical development of soft skills in the workplace.



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