The dilemma with soft skills

The country CEO of a global automotive manufacturer told me a while back, that they cannot grow their business as planned because they cannot find enough young talent with the right soft skills. Soft skills, the CEO said, are necessary in most of their job families - from mechatronic engineer to sales or back-office functions.

He confirmed that his company was indeed well prepared to train employees on those hard skills (technical skills) that were specific to his company. But "spending money on technical training is a bad investment if the trained person does not have the necessary foundation of soft skills", the CEO said.

The comment of the CEO confirmed a recent trend across industries and regions. After all, he was clearly drawing a direct link between the lack of soft skills and
the commercial success of a company.

A number of recent studies show that employers across Europe have great difficulties to find (especially) young candidates with the right soft skills. McKinsey states that 61% of employers are not confident to find skills such as collaboration, problem solving, self-reflection or communication in young applicants. In fact, many employers have stated that they are experiencing a gap between the level of soft skills they need and level of soft skills that the education sector is providing. This skills gap is one of the reasons for the 2 million job vacancies across Europe and also one of the key reasons for the 7.5 million young people who are currently out of a job, out of education or training.

For the longest time, soft skills were trailing hard skills or technical skills when it comes to training budgets and job performance. Soft skills were regarded more as a "Nice to Have" rather than a "Must Have".

So why this "sudden" realization that soft skills might in fact be mission critical and essential to business success?

Organizations move people and capital around the world at an ever increasing speed. Our world has turned into a "Global Village" . Many of us enjoy the freedom and opportunity brought about by globalization and technological advances. And as our societies are slowly merging into one big interconnected ecosystem, we begin to see that many issues are becoming more complex as the number of stakeholders is rising.

Solutions that are economically, ecologically and/or societally sustainable often require that more voices be heard. Decisions made by just one person or group can lead to public criticism, alienation, even defeat.

Technical skills might ensure the development and implementation of solid processes, clear policies or detailed governance. But what organizations really need in this complex environment are individuals who collaborate with others, who know how to build bridges and trust across entities and who are willing to shift their perspectives in pursuit of innovation, problem solving and success. We need leaders who can create a sense of unity, of meaning and direction and who act on the understanding that the collaborative power of the group will always be greater than the performance of the individual.

I believe it is time that we found a better term for "soft skills", a term that reflects the true value they bring to business and society and a term that makes leaders aspire to them. I believe this is the time to rethink our approach to educating these skills in early childhood as much as in adult learning in order to be able to satisfy the demand for them over time.

And one last thought:
Social media provides us the unique opportunity to publically endorse our personal and professional contacts because of their soft skills. I suggest we make it a habit to do a "Shout-Out" in response to someone's display of soft-skills?