Importance of Soft Skills

The importance of soft skills training by Jenni Miller

I have been involved in recruitment for over 20 years and over that time I must have read thousands of CV’s and covering letters. In every single one of those CV’s candidates will state that they have great communication and team working skills. My pet peeve is a personal statement that says “I’m a great team player but can also work well alone” – what does that actually tell me? We all know these are important transferable skills, but it just feels so generic.

As an employer you absolutely want new recruits to have these attributes but how do you then develop those skills once the candidate joins your business? How do you make sure their communication style compliments those of your existing team members? How do you make sure they develop positive relationships with their peers and other stakeholders?

Recent research suggested that a lack of low-level soft skills building opportunities – which include communication, problem solving and teamwork training – is costing £22.2bn a year in the UK. The report by Skills Builder Partnership, in collaboration with CIPD, sends a stark warning to businesses not to overlook essential skills training. Learning and development should not be seen as purely a cost to the business but more of an investment in your people and ultimately their productivity.

Essential skills are those transferable skills that you could argue are needed in any job role at any level – communication, problem solving, resilience, creativity, teamwork, decision making and leadership to name a few. In all job interviews, at any organisation, they are the key questions asked;

Describe your communication or leadership style?

Give me an example of a time you have worked as part of a successful team?

Tell me about a time you have had to overcome a problem or be resilient?

Development of these soft skills should start at the beginning of a candidate’s employment and continue throughout their tenure. 

Induction programmes generally focus on the practical steps that a new colleague needs to take in their first few weeks/months. These will include becoming familiar with working arrangements, HR policies, Health & Safety procedures or general technical process or skills needed for the day-to-day elements of the role. However, in order to be more effective, an induction programme should also provide a positive message around the organisations culture and values. Particularly around the commitment to Continuous Professional Development and this should include essential skills training.

By their very nature, soft skills tend to be more personality based and can therefore be harder to develop or to evaluate and measure. However, there are a plethora of ways these skills can be improved, and they will often need to be bespoke to the business or team. This could include coaching and/or mentoring opportunities, face-to-face workshops (including role plays), peer collaboration, 360 feedback or by using psychometric tools.

Not only do soft skills help improve productivity, but they also help increase job satisfaction, employee engagement and improve retention rates. Interestingly, over half (56%) of working age adults in the UK would consider getting a new job for improved skills building opportunities yet many organisations overlook this type of training focusing instead only on hard skills which are technical by nature. The Skills Builder Partnership report concludes that placing a greater importance on building essential skills in your workforce, will provide a significantly higher return on investment than increasing salaries. Not to mention the positive impact they can have on team dynamics and an overall positive work environment.