Soft skills training: Upskill your employees and increase ROI


September 13, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

44% of employers believe that candidates lack the vital soft skills needed to be successful at their job. Businesses have started realising that soft skills are necessary for the success of a company, which is why employee training in this area has increased.

In this article we discuss the importance and benefits of this training.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal attributes, typically linked to how you work and interact with others, which are necessary for success and your career development. Soft skills make it easier to form relationships with other people which makes you visible for the right reasons.

Regardless of where you work and what job you have, you will need some soft skills. For many people soft skills are the most difficult skill-set to develop.

How can you tell when soft skills are lacking?

Company's usually realise their employees need soft skills training when there is a problem with employee behaviour. For example, lots of complaints from customers suggests that training is need which focuses on communication, interpersonal skills etc.

However, it's better to avoid problems altogether by implementing soft skills training anyway - this will prepare your company to meet the changing and increasing demands of the industry.

Examples of soft skills

There are lots of different types of soft skills, such as:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Decision making and problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Networking
  • Organisational skills
  • Public speaking
  • Teamwork
  • Time-management etc

See our article on a list of soft skills more information.

Soft skills training icons

Why businesses should invest in upskilling - the benefits of developing soft skills

Soft skills are needed across all industries, for example, strong communication skills are needed whether you are working as a nurse, a hairdresser, a mechanic etc. Developing each soft skill comes with its own advantages, for instance, improving communication will help your employees interact more effectively and improvements in time-management can increase productivity.

There are also general benefits of employees developing their soft skills:

Increased productivity - Employees' efficiency in their tasks and responsibilities increases which will help bring the company closer to achieving its goals.

Improved teamwork - For a business to function effectively people must work well together in order to achieve a common goal. The quality of work improves when people use their individual strengths and skills together in collaboration.

Improved retention rates and lower employee turnover - Research has suggested that the average UK professional has had two years without training, with 13% having no training in over four years. People want to work at a company that invests in employees' career development, in fact, 63% of UK employees would change their employer if they are offered a job at a company with more training opportunities.

By providing soft skills training you are showing your employees that you want them to remain relevant and that you essentially care about their future. Also, recruitment costs for the company decrease with increased staff retention.

Improved employee satisfaction and morale - Investing in employees' shows them that they are valued. Feeling appreciated and having a positive outlook of the company increases job satisfaction. This is because employees are excited about what could be next for them and knowing that they're working towards something increases their feelings of purpose.

Improved performance - Staff are better able to perform their jobs and training will also increase their confidence. Confident employees are effective at their jobs for a variety of reasons, such as being more assertive and productive.

Improves leadership - Soft skills help prepare employees for leadership positions because specific skills are needed, such as, active listening, empathy etc. This is important because 50% of employees leave their job due to poor managers. By providing soft skills training you'll help boost their success in leadership positions and you'll help increase their employees' job satisfaction.

Popular company - By offering this training the company is more attractive to prospective employees.

Enhanced customer service and satisfaction - If your employees are happy then your customers and clients will be. When employees are happier they perform better and they are more likely to keep up-to-date with industry trends meaning that they can provide the best information and recommendations to customers. Clients will pay more if your team are well-informed and proactive.

Attracts new clients - Linking to the previous point, because customers and clients are happier with your company’s service they are more likely to recommend you to other clients. This provides your company with new business opportunities.

Teach your company's culture - By training employees in soft skills you can teach employees the way the company needs employees to act.

Save time and money - It makes more sense to teach current employees new skills rather than spending time and money finding other employees.

Lower absenteeism - Staff will want to go to work so they'll be lower rates of absenteeism.

Increased workplace communication - Effective communication between staff increases which consequently reduces the risk of messages becoming distorted. This allows the company to operate more smoothly.

Reduces weaknesses and increases consistency - Every employee will have a weakness amongst their soft skills. Training allows them to improve these skills and gets them to the same level as their colleagues. This increases consistency and reduces some employees overly relying on others. Providing this training also means that employees can cover for one another when needed, work in teams or work by themselves without constant supervision or help.

Increased innovation - New ideas are created as a direct result of training and development.

By investing in soft skills training for employees you are more likely to see employees performing their jobs more effectively. This is turn is beneficial for your company and increases the return on investment (ROI).

Supporting research

Research has supported the idea that soft skills development increases ROI, for example, in a study conducted by Harvard University, Boston College and the University of Michigan, it was found that soft skills training:

  • Increased productivity by 12%
  • Increased employee retention
  • Delivered a 256% ROI

Read more about the study in the research paper The Skills to Pay the Bills, written in June 2017.

Presentation on the ROI of learning from Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning)

Designing the right training programme

To develop employees' soft skills you must first design or choose the right training problem. Here are some steps that can help with this:

1. Decide what soft skills are necessary

Decide what soft skills are necessary for your employees to have - your aim is to align this training with your business goals, for example, you might want to increase sales so you may focus on improving the soft skills linked to this.

2. Evaluate your current training programmes

Evaluate your current training programmes and see if there are any gaps. Ask yourself:

  • What training do we give new employees?
  • What training is offered to all employees?
  • How is this training carried out?
  • What training resources are accessible to employees?
  • What is the feedback on current training offered?
  • What training is missing?
  • What training will help achieve our company goals?

3. Decide the format of your training programme

Decide the format of your training programme, for example:

  • Mentoring
  • On-site classroom training - lots of companies start with this but find it expensive and difficult to scale.
  • On-the-job learning
  • Individual learning
  • Blended learning - this is becoming particularly popular as it consists of a combination of classroom learning and online learning. For example, regular online classes combined with virtual reality.

The format of the training your pick depends on the:

  • Company's size
  • Location of the employees
  • Content of the training

It's better to have a programme that incorporates practical elements so participants can practice their skills through, for example, role plays or virtual reality.

  1. Identify the resources you need - this depends on the type of training your are providing.
  2. Tell your employees about the training program and share with them the benefits, such as, career development opportunities. Also, get management to support the training so that they can help motivate employees.
  3. Set goals so you can assess whether your training program has been valuable and has made a positive impact.
  4. Measure the effect of the training and get feedback from the participants.
Soft skills training in a classroom

Tips:

  • Training and development opportunities must be easily accessible for everyone or employees will lack the motivation to attend.
  • Reward staff for getting involved with these opportunities because this gives them a reason to complete the training.
  • Lots of employees want to take control of their own development by choosing the content of their training and completing it when it suits them. If you give them this chance they are more likely to perceive you and the training more positively. Online training is very effective for achieving this but when judging whether a course meets the requirements ask yourself:
    • Is the content beneficial for our employees' needs?
    • Does the content cover enough?
    • Has the learning been created by experts?
    • Are there modules that involve practice?
    • Is it easy to access and navigate?
  • Ensure that you accommodate different learning styles so the majority of employees want to get involved - some employees may learn better with visual materials, others with aural materials etc.

Read our article on Corporate Learning for the New Generation of Employees for more information.

Automation

Some may think that there is no point in upskilling employees because computers are taking over many human jobs. However, this technology highlights that there are many tasks that a computer cannot perform which are generally linked to soft skills.

Accenture Strategy released the report Harnessing Revolution: Creating the Future Workforce. In this report they argue that employers should be helping to upskill staff because training in soft skills will significantly reduce the amount of jobs lost to automation.

"Paradoxically, the truly human skills, from leadership to creativity, will remain highly relevant and winning organizations will strike the right balance – leveraging the best of technology to elevate, not eliminate their people."

In conclusion

Schools aren't teaching the necessary soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace so the responsibility falls to companies. If you don't invest in upskilling your employees you may be damaging your business.

If you do invest it's likely that you'll get a large ROI and it will give you a competitive advantage over companies that do not invest in soft skills training. Essentially, you're guaranteeing the maintenance of your company's success.