Wanted: Employees with Soft Skills

Employees cannot ignore the necessity of soft skills for success on the job.

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | March 30, 2017

Regardless of what stage you are in your career, it’s important for all employees to understand that the dynamics of today’s fast-paced, functional businesses require the mastery of a variety of interpersonal or “soft skills.” This is not an either/or proposition. If a business is to be truly competitive, employees must be prepared to use soft skills in tandem with their functional skills.

This means that beyond technical or functional skills, employees must also be able to communicate effectively. They may need to use interview techniques to gather appropriate information from a potential client or negotiate to resolve a conflict. Regardless, employee success will undoubtedly require a balanced application of both functional and soft skills.

Types of Soft Skills
In 2007, the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) released a report on the importance of soft skills in cooperation with key business groups around the U.S. The companies involved identified several competencies as keys to the success of 21st-century employees. These included networking, enthusiasm, professionalism, communication skills, teamwork, and problem solving and critical thinking.

Learning Soft Skills
Working with people who already demonstrate strong soft skills is an effective way of learning those skills. Many organizations run mentoring programs so that more long-time employees can pass on their knowledge and experience to newer employees. Other ways to improve soft skills include formal training courses, self-study, books, professional organizations such as trade associations, adult education programs, and online programs and webinars.

Soft skills, such as interpersonal behavior, communication, report writing and presentation skills, that augment technical skills are important in developing a successful career. However, these skills are seldom emphasized or taught in the workplace. Similarly, employees do not recognize the lack of or need for soft skills and often overlook opportunities to improve these important skills.

Professionals need to interact effectively with customers/clients, work in teams, communicate technical details, and build relationships. Business owners and managers will always ask: Is this employee able to lead a team successfully, communicate effectively, make presentations, or write reports to management? These are key skills that determine advancement, raises and job success.

Though many employers are hesitant to say so, most educators admit that it is easier to teach functional skills than to help employees learn the soft skills essential to their success. Those skills that make up a candidate’s character and interpersonal behavior are not as easily taught, but can have an impact on whether the candidate gets a job or is offered a promotion. Whether employees learn essential soft skills may well be the unrecognized factors of employee success, but like it or not, such success depends on the mastery of these factors.

David Cox


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