- Leaders and managers at all levels say the soft skills gap is not going away.
- If you are hiring for a low-supply, high-demand, technical-skill job, you probably won’t be able to weed out all those with weak soft skills.
- Most managers don’t have the extra time or resources to pull people out of work and send them for soft skills training.
When talking about the growing lack of soft skills in today’s workplace, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute. I know plenty of people who exhibit great professionalism, critical thinking, and teamwork!” And, of course, you do. But here’s the problem: There are simply not enough of them.
Think of the soft skills gap as a supply-and-demand challenge, especially true among people with in-demand technical skills, of whom there is a shortage to begin with. Leaders and managers at all levels say the soft skills gap is not going away. If anything, it is getting worse, and it’s not just about the youngest people in the workplace.
The soft skills gap we are seeing now has been developing for decades. The costs are great, the opportunity costs are even greater, and yet the problem stands right there in plain sight.
There are three reasons this problem evades solutions.
1. You cannot hire your way around the soft skills gap. At least, not entirely. If you are hiring for a low-supply, high-demand, technical-skill job, you probably won’t be able to weed out those with weak soft skills. If you are hiring for non-technical jobs, then soft skills are among the only criteria, making the demand for those with strong soft skills very high, despite the low supply.
2. Soft skills cannot be spoon fed or forced upon people. Soft skills are all about the regulation of the self. They must be fully embraced to be learned. You must get workers to care enough about soft skills that their self-building drive is turned on and focused on mastering those skills.
3. Managers and their employees do not have the time or resources to train soft skills. If you are like most managers, you probably don’t have a lot of extra time or resources to pull your people out of work and send them for soft skills training. Most soft-skill gap issues are dealt with when they arise: When an employee is late, or inappropriate, or makes an error in judgment, or there are conflicts on the team, or there is a bad customer service interaction. You deal with the problem. Maybe you note the issue. Maybe if it is a recurring ongoing issue with an employee, you really drill down and try to deal with the problem. In any case, unless you are the rare exception, your approach to dealing with the soft skills gap is pretty much hit-or-miss.
So, how are the most effective managers bridging the soft skills gap?
The number-one thing they have in common is they build soft skills development into every aspect of their people strategy and management. They understand what can go wrong when individuals, teams, or organizations have big gaps. Even more important, they understand how much can go incredibly right—the extraordinary potential for added value—as a result of unlocking the power of soft skills.
So, shine a bright light on soft skills in every aspect of your human capital management practices:
- Staffing strategy (but remember, you can’t completely hire your way around the soft skills gap)
- On-boarding and up-to-speed training
- Performance management and talent development
- Ongoing employee training
- Management and leadership training and selection