Over the course of the pandemic, employers rose to really value soft skills. In the face of adversity and the need to embrace change, employees who were able to roll with the punches were worth their weight in gold.
The uncertain environment and the change to remote working required soft skills aplenty. Skills such as communication, resilience, teamworking and flexibility had to be produced in abundance, pretty much overnight.
A couple of years on, soft skills have become no less important. A recent survey highlighted that 75% of employers deem university degrees less critical than a decade ago. 81% of those employers would choose to upskill their people if they displayed the necessary soft or transferable skills.
To underline this, the same survey revealed that 87% of employers cited soft skills such as a positive work attitude, passion, work ethic and willingness to learn to be more valuable than certifications and qualifications.
The demand for soft skills.
Undeniably, the labour market in the UK needs soft skills. Even among sectors that are hard skills driven, such as some areas of tech, the market is changing. More and more, organisations are requiring people with the ability to translate tech language and make it more accessible. Data too is another area that requires a soft touch. Data is an arena that is largely inaccessible to the layman. Businesses can only leverage this information and use it for business advantage if its insights are easy to understand.
Recruiting for Soft Skills.
Global and leading names in the fields of academia and financial services have launched training programmes and scholarships designed to “enhance crucial soft skills”. This only serves to highlight the importance of soft skills in the modern commercial world.
Recruiting for soft skills.
With such an emphasis being placed on soft skills, how should we approach this from a recruitment perspective, and how far ‘front and centre’ should we place them?
We should be transparent about the soft skills we need for each of the roles we are recruiting for and communicate these in the job advert. We should let jobseekers know what is involved in the job and highlight the soft skills accordingly.
Of course, tech and digital jobs do carry a need for technical and hard skills. One survey showed an even split between the value that employers place on both hard and soft skills. 44% of businesses viewed soft skills, such as working with others, professionalism, punctuality and managing deadlines as key attributes while 47% planned to increase their graduate hires this year.
One way to encourage the diversity of applicants away from hard skills is to be inclusive around language. To encourage applicants who are heavy with soft skills we should aim to be inclusive with our language. We may like to avoid terms such as “degree qualified”.
Train hiring managers.
To prioritise hiring for soft skills we might like to consider re-educating hiring managers to look beyond the paper qualifications candidates present on their CVs. We may like to encourage them to consider the role in terms of soft skills and if appropriate remove any formal qualifications from the applicants. This will help them to recruit “blind” and increase the talent pool from which candidates are resourced.
Soft skills recruitment encourages social mobility and inclusion.
Businesses that limit themselves to a graduate talent pool will exclude great people. By adapting the hiring processes we use, we can widen the net and be more inclusive.
There is also some thinking that promotes soft skills recruitment as a method to improve social mobility. Dr Jummy Okoya, senior lecturer in organisational behaviour at the University of East London advises that hiring on potential over experience can help contribute to social mobility.
He says that by “acknowledging the soft skills that applicants bring who may not have the required level of experience can create the development opportunity for the individual and contribute to social mobility”.
A report from the Social Mobility Commission in 2019 found strong evidence of a correlation between soft skills and intergenerational social mobility. The data evidenced that higher levels of soft skills, such as readiness to learn, problem solving and planning skills, directly correlated with upward social mobility (defined as having higher educational achievement than parents).
The recruitment of rounded, resilient, and collaborative employees requires us to think beyond on-paper qualifications. By redirecting our recruitment approach toward softer skills, we can better achieve a balance of people within our organisations.
Our efforts will not only hold benefits for our organisations, but our society. This approach will help increase the diversity within businesses, and also contribute to upward mobility within society.
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