Why soft skill training matters in the workplace

Published: 19th August 2020

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Soft skills are those that humans naturally have and are used to relate to one another and make sense of the world around them. Two well-known examples are communication and creativity but there are many more. Technical or hard skills are skills we use to accomplish specific tasks, such as spreadsheet software proficiency or knowing how to code.

Both soft and hard skills are important, but unfortunately, there is a tendency to give the latter more weight than the former in the workplace.

A 2019 McKinsey survey illustrated this lopsided trend, revealing that jobs that require hard skills pay over two times compared to jobs that require soft skills. This can be very problematic as according to the World Economic Forum, the study also points out that several of the top ten growing skills are soft skills.

LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report echoes the increasing need for soft skills at work, as 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers say that soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than hard skills. The issue is that identifying soft skills in candidates isn’t as easy as identifying hard skills. It’s only after a person has been hired that their lack of soft skills is made apparent. For 89% of respondents, bad hires generally have a soft skills gap.

The Value of Soft Skills for Companies

Studies have shown that companies do value soft skills, but what kind of value do they actually bring? Let’s take a look at the four major ways soft skills contribute to business success.

1. Hard Skills need Soft Skills

Technical expertise can only take a company so far. A marketer that has comprehensive product knowledge and all the brilliant ideas for campaigns will be extremely limited if they can’t communicate properly with the rest of the marketing department. An employee can’t expect to get promoted to a managerial position if they don’t showcase any leadership potential with the ability to rally coworkers.

The growing concern of AI and automation taking over more jobs also highlights how soft skills are even more crucial than ever. Mechanical tasks can be done with increasing efficiency by machines. Even complex activities like data analysis are being completed with basic AI algorithms. However, there is no replacing humans who can interpret, relay, and apply the analysed data toward other endeavours.

2. Dealing with Customers or Clients Requires Soft Skills

Social media and smartphones, being as ubiquitous as they are, have considerably narrowed the communication gap between consumers and companies. Customers expect businesses to be at their beck and call for any issue. Online connectivity has also widened the choices for consumers to spend their money on.

Technical skills may be enough to resolve a particular issue or answer a question, but if you don’t have the skills to effectively communicate and explain these to the customer, then it may still lead to a bad experience for the customer.

Remember that the quality of your customer service can be the deciding factor for consumers making purchasing decisions between your business and a competitor. If your customer service representatives lack the necessary soft skills to handle customers, it will be hard to stay competitive.

3. Long-Term Employee Success

Human capital is still the top asset for any company. Thus, employee development is imperative for businesses if they want to retain quality talent. By equipping workers with soft skills, they enjoy greater chances of achieving long-term job success.

The SoftSkills: The Hard Skills for Today’s Workforce report cites a study from Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie-Mellon revealing that 75% of long-term job success depends on people skills and only 25% on technical knowledge. The report also cites a Harvard University study, which states that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills and people skills.

4. Business ROI

Soft skills training produces tangible results for businesses, especially with its revenue.

Harvard University, Boston College, and University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business partnered with Shahi Exports, India’s largest ready-made garment exporter, to conduct a study about soft skills. They discovered that employees with soft skills training are 12% more productive than workers without such training. The increased productivity helped generate a remarkable 256% ROI.

How to Create Training Programmes for Improving Soft Skills

Because soft skills like the ability to work with a team or being a good listener are difficult to quantify, it’s much harder to create training programmes that focus on their development than it is with hard skills. Here are tips you can follow to make the course creation process easier:

1. Use Interactive Scenarios

Soft skills are put to the test in situations where there is no standard answer or accepted formula. Resolving customer concerns, or arguments between colleagues, can’t be simplified into a multiple choice question without removing all the nuance that comes with people’s choice of language and emotional state.

Interactive scenarios that simulate real-life situations are the best way to train employees for soft skills. They can learn and make mistakes without having to deal with the consequences that might jeopardise your business in high-pressure, high-stakes circumstances. When elements of the scenario react to an employee’s actions, said employee has immediate feedback they can use later to improve for the better.

2. Use Single Concept Learning

Single-concept learning is a soft skill training method developed by Stephen Meyer that teaches one skill at a time. The goal is to change one behaviour with short demonstrations of a particular skill applied in numerous ways. This is in contrast to the typical model of training that inundates trainees with multiple, big lessons that can be difficult to absorb.

An example of single-concept learning would be teaching salespeople how to handle a phone call from an upset customer in bite-sized, five-minute chunks. From this one highly specific situation, they can improve their use of positive and understanding language to get to the root of a customer’s issues.

3. Apply Skills in the Real World

Simulated interactive scenarios need to be followed up with actual assessments in the workplace, whether it’s in the office or in a remote setting. There’s no other way to know for sure if employees fully grasp what they have been taught until they are given a chance to apply their skills in the real world.

An effective way to test out your soft skill training course is by setting up a group-based learning programme. Learners can participate in team-building activities where human interaction is integral. They can also take part in discussions on and offline where they can share insights from experience and then learn from each other’s mistakes and triumphs.

4. Measure Performance

As challenging as it may be to put a number on the effectiveness of soft skills training, it still has to be done, especially if you want to convince management that it’s worth pursuing.

You need to put in place measurable goals before you start developing a soft skill course to ensure you have a clear direction for it. Collaborate with managers to come up with KPIs that the company will find useful. Brief employees on the objectives so they know the training is worth doing.

For ideas on potential KPIs, consider results that can be quantified such as the number of satisfied customers that contacted your business for help, employee retention, and sales figures for specific products.

5. Provide Feedback

KPIs are the direct measurements of how well training courses accomplish their goals, but they don’t say what exactly needs improvement or reinforcement. Constructive feedback must be given to employees upon completing a training programme so they know what aspects of their soft skill development to focus on.

Feedback shouldn’t just come from an employee’s immediate supervisor or trainer. Coworkers, subordinates, and customers can also provide valuable comments and suggestions. All stakeholders directly affected by a worker’s application of soft skills are worth listening to.

The responses gathered aren’t just for the trainees’ benefit. Feedback can expose flaws or highlight strengths in the courses as well. Take advantage of this information to tweak your training programme.

Train Soft Skills for Solid Workplace Improvements

Soft skill training courses demand more intensive, interpersonal development strategies, but the results are worth the effort. Companies that understand the value of soft skills enjoy concrete results in improved employee performance, smoother customer and workplace relations, and an overall increase in business.

If you need help with creating a soft skill training programme, our production team and instructional designers are experienced in crafting engaging, interactive courses with a human touch and can give you the expert guidance you need. Book a demo today to see if we’re a good fit.

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The author - lloyd smith

The author - Lloyd Smith

Lloyd is the Managing Director of Wahoo Learning. He has a passion for the learning technology industry, particularly the latest innovations and technologies.

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