Soft skills such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, resilience, flexibility, creativity, originality, initiative and emotional intelligence comprise a chunk of the top skills and skills groups that global employers see as rising in prominence in the run up to 2025, according to the Future of Jobs 2020 report.
The presence of a large number of soft skills in this list is particularly intriguing because soft skills are traditionally perceived to be inferior to hard skills. That’s perhaps because hard skills have always been easier to quantify and measure than soft skills. Right from school, hard skills such as literacy and numeracy are systematically measured and graded. But teamwork, empathy and resilience? Not so much.
As adults, this is possibly also why many of us are reluctant to list too many soft skills on our resumes. After all, it is easier for us to show employers evidence of our hard skills, which are backed up with degrees, diplomas and certificates or work experience. While, how do you prove to a prospective employer that you are an empathetic person who works really well in teams?
Because of the universal perception that hard skills are superior to soft skills, some experts have argued for a change in terminology to give soft skills the importance they deserve. They say that the terms “hard’ and “soft” indicate there’s a hierarchy between them with “hard” skills denoting greater desirability and “soft” denoting expendability. Some proposed alternatives for the term “soft skills” are “essential skills”, “complex skills”, “human capabilities” and so on.
In this blog, we argue that the push towards increased adoption of technology and automation at the workplace over the last decade or so – which has accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic – has put soft skills and soft skill sets at the centrestage of the future of work. Below, we list three reasons why we think so. Wherever possible, we cite research or reports that support the argument we make.
The future of work is fluid. With technology rapidly changing the way we work, hard skills can get obsolete real fast. Organisations can ensure success when they hire people with soft skills, say experts.
“In our view, the best way to make your organization more data-centric and digital is to selectively invest in those who are most adaptable, curious, and flexible in the first place. Since nobody knows what the key future hard skills will be, the best action is to bet on the people who are most likely to develop them,” wrote Becky Frankiewicz and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in the Harvard Business Review.
Global giants such as Google and Amazon have been among companies that have recognised this. Over the years, they have been emphasizing that possessing soft skills such as learnability and problem solving is key to having a successful career with them.
Hiring managers feel the same way. As automation changes the job market, 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers agree that candidates with strong soft skills are increasingly important, said the LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends Report. In fact, 89 per cent said bad hires typically have poor soft skills.
92% of talent professionals and hiring managers agree that candidates with strong soft skills are increasingly important
While advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning are making it possible for an increasing number of human tasks to be automated, machines still lack emotional and social skills as well as higher cognitive skills such as problem solving, critical thinking (including brainstorming), creativity, systematic decision making and so on.
This is why as machines and AI are replacing humans in several jobs, people with skills that technology cannot replace will continue to be in demand in the job market.
This trend has been around for a while, according to David Deming of Harvard University.
“Between 1980 and 2012, jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the US labor force. Math-intensive but less social jobs – including many STEM occupations – shrank by 3.3 percentage points over the same period,” wrote Deming in a paper titled The Growing Importance Of Social Skills In The Labor Market.
Deming’s research found that “the labor market return to social skills was much greater in the 2000s than in the mid 1980s and 1990s”.
Soft skills are increasingly in demand in the modern job market and the demand for them will continue to grow till 2030, according to a McKinsey report.
“Demand for higher cognitive skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing, will grow through 2030, by 19 percent in the United States and by 14 percent in Europe, from sizable bases today,” the report said. It forecasts that between 2016 and 2030 the demand for social and emotional skills will grow by 26% in the United States and by 22% in Europe. During the same period, the demand for basic data input and processing skills will fall by 19% in the United States and by 23% in Europe.
Demand for higher cognitive skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing, will grow through 2030
Here’s an observation we have made after years of working as digital transformation consultants: Individuals can possess all the hard skills needed to execute projects at work, but if they don’t have the ability to understand what the client or stakeholders want from these projects or the ability to communicate with and motivate their team members to execute these projects – all of which requires soft skills – whatever they create or build for the stakeholders will not fulfill their needs and fail.
So, software developers don’t just need to know how to code, they must have the business acumen to understand what customers (often from different geographical and cultural backgrounds) want to accomplish so that they can help build what is really useful for them. Similarly, sales and marketing executives don’t only need to know how to sell, they need to have good interpersonal and communication skills so that they connect well with their potential customers. And degrees or certificates do not a successful manager make. Successful managers are those who know how to engage and motivate their team members.
Get a complete overview of your organisation's skill sets with skills management software MuchSkills – your strengths visualised.
Adaptability: The ability to swiftly modify your responses when faced with uncertainty, and thrive while doing that.
Business acumen: Understanding how businesses work and using that knowledge to achieve good outcomes for your business.
Creativity: The ability to generate original ideas and turn them into business opportunities...and to find innovative solutions to problems.
Communication: The ability to connect with stakeholders to get your message or story across.
Collaboration: The ability of an individual to work with others to achieve a common goal.
Emotional Intelligence: The ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
Empathy: The capacity to put oneself in another’s position and to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference.
Leadership: The ability to collaborate with and guide teams to achieve the best outcome while working towards organizational goals.
Persuasion: The ability to convince your audience to change their attitude or behaviour towards an idea.
Resilience: The ability to bounce back and thrive when faced with challenges such as change at the workplace or stress.
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