Filling Skill Gaps with Soft Skill Training


December 29, 2022 - Izaskun Olarreaga

The global skills shortage is often associated with a shortfall in applicants qualified in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). According to one report, the digital skills gap has the potential to cost 14 of the G20 countries a total of $11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP growth.

However, the worldwide 'skills crisis' is not confined to companies which rely heavily on technical prowess. McKinsey & Company has reported that 87% of employers worldwide know they have a skills gap – or will experience one in the next few years.

The cost of this more comprehensive shortfall in workplace abilities could be truly eyewatering. It is projected that by 2030, the skills gap will create a total loss of $8.5 trillion in the USA alone.

These are the sort of statistics stimulating a global push to get more people into STEM careers, but that will take time to have an effect. Also, it is still only part of the solution for creating more resilient, versatile and effective workforces.

It is becoming clear that all organisations must invest in their teams' soft skill learning and development.

Modern meaning of soft skills

Soft skills are now often referred to as 'empowerment skills'. They are the abilities that every employee needs to fulfil their role comprehensively and successfully – whether they are directors, technicians or machinery operators.

This includes communication, problem-solving, teamworking, transparency, time management, critical thinking and integrity. Yes, some of these attributes come naturally to some people, but even they can be empowered to achieve more, with the right learning and development support.

The truth is, that neglecting these skill areas is a high-risk strategy. They are the launchpad for your existing team's ability to deliver on your business goals. Basically, providing soft skills training equips your team to get the best out of themselves, and their colleagues, as we discuss below.

Have soft skills been undervalued?

"75 per cent of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25 per cent on technical knowledge." - Peggy Klaus.

There is also a real possibility that the pressure to fill technical vacancies and keep pace with rapid advances in technology, has served to 'mask' this more insidious skills gap worldwide.

In times of change, challenge and pressure, it is leaders and effective team players you need, whatever your business niche. They are people with strong soft skills.

In fact, a 2021 survey in the US reported that 70% of the most demanded skills in current job vacancies were abilities such as leadership and communication.

It is pure logic when you stop to consider it. No matter how advanced your employees' technical abilities are, you still need them to be able to work well in teams, disseminate information effectively, and be versatile and positive.

The massive shift to remote and hybrid working has further highlighted this issue. It has made daily tasks such as communication, time management and team working even more complex. Demanding even more attention is given to finding and developing staff who can deliver these skills in a clear and purposeful manner.

Unlocking emotional intelligence

"What helps people, helps business." - Leo Burnett.

The best soft skills training empowers your employees to use emotional intelligence in how they complete their own goals and interact with others. Being able to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions is certainly a skill you need to manage change or deal competently with pressure.

You are creating employees who have a more intuitive way of working, including being able to identify and respond to both negative issues and positive opportunities in a more adept manner.

Communication skills gap leader

Creating business leaders

Another way in which soft skills training can ultimately help fill universal skill gaps is that it builds abilities that are crucial to business leadership.

By empowering your senior staff personally, you create more assured, clear and able decision-makers. As well as developing business leaders, who can also inspire and motivate others to meet your business objectives.

Soft skill development can enhance leadership attributes such as empathetic listening, rapport-building, conflict resolution, inclusivity and respectfulness.

Filling skill gaps with loyal, motivated employees

Two of the main reasons people change jobs are a lack of appreciation and too few opportunities for advancement. If you were to focus your learning and development strategy entirely on task-orientated and technical skills, you may not always address these issues.

People want personal development options – and a feeling that their employer values them in a holistic fashion. They also want to be 'heard' and seen properly. Something that can only happen if good communications are a universally respected and widely encouraged skill in your workplace.

How can you reduce staff churn, and prevent more skills gaps, if you don't invest in a positive corporate culture, steered by modern business leaders? The more you invest in your team's soft skills, the more engaged they will be, and the more able to work successfully with others.

To sum this up, one of the biggest advantages of developing soft skills in your workforce is demonstrating to them that you place a high value on their personal attributes and individual contribution.

"In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can." - Nikos Kazantzakis.

Developing a soft skills training strategy

Clearly, one of the core values of modern business is its reliance on engaged and empowered employees. Therefore, to develop an effective soft skills training strategy, the first step is to simply ask your workforce for their views on this topic.

From an end-to-end training needs analysis, you can then move on to creating personalised learning and development plans. This could well include enhancing technical abilities, but should always involve opportunities to develop soft skills.

Keep in mind every training strategy – for every company – needs to include checks and measures to make sure everyone is staying on track, with regard to their learning goals.

Having access to high-quality, online soft skills training courses can assist with this, as learners can go at their own pace, and line managers can receive insightful data to monitor progress.