Soft skills are a hot topic in learning and development. There’s good reason — the latest research shows that employers are looking for people with strong soft skills, but have a hard time finding them. And employees are paying attention — they’re asking for help developing their soft skills.
But a lot of people still think about soft skills as “fuzzy.” While it’s true that skills like leadership and communication are harder to quantify and test for in comparison with more technical skills, that doesn’t reduce their importance. The people and teams that succeed are the ones that can collaborate, communicate, work toward common goals, and navigate conflict.
We hear from a lot of learning and development leaders who want to understand the data and research about soft skills. If you’re working to build a case for soft-skill development, here are some numbers to help you put it all in context.
Soft Skills Are in High Demand
Soft skills are high on hiring managers’ priority lists. In a 2016 study from the assessment company Wonderlic, 93 percent of employers said that soft skills are either an “essential” or “very important” factor in hiring decisions.
Some employers report needing soft skills more than even the most-buzzed-about tech skills. In a 2015 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, employers ranked leadership skills and the ability to work in a team as the most desirable attributes of new college graduates, ahead of problem-solving and analytical or quantitative skills.
And talent with soft skills is scarce. In a 2015 study, LinkedIn found that 59 percent of U.S. hiring managers believe it’s difficult to find candidates with soft skills.
Employers Place the Highest Value on Communication and Management Skills
So, what specific skills are employers looking for? In the LinkedIn study, the 10 most in-demand soft skills were:
- Critical thinking.
- Social skills.
- Interpersonal communication.
- Friendly personality.
At Coursera, our enterprise customers tell us the most needed soft skills are:
- Workplace communication skills: Business writing, presentation skills, collaboration and conflict management.
- Management skills: Design thinking, agile development, motivating employees, project management, coaching and emotional intelligence.
- Personal effectiveness skills: Time management, critical thinking, self-awareness, organization and creativity.
And soft skills aren’t just nice to have on the job. The actual job descriptions make it clear that technical skills alone aren’t enough.
In 2015, the labor analytics firm Burning Glass analyzed millions of U.S. job postings and found that one in three skills requested in job postings is a “baseline” or soft skill. “Even in the most technical career areas (such as IT, Healthcare, and Engineering), more than a quarter of all skill requirements are for baseline skills,” according to the Burning Glass report.
Research from Harvard backs up that finding. In a 2017 paper, Harvard professor David Deming reported that jobs with high social-skill requirements are on the rise. Those jobs grew by nearly 10 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force between 1980 and 2010. During the same period, the proportion of jobs that were math-intensive but less social (including many STEM jobs) shrank by about 3 percentage points.
Employees Are Eager for On-the-Job Training
The conversation about soft skills isn’t one-sided. College students, graduate students and working professionals at all stages in their careers report an interest in developing their soft skills.
Studies show that two groups, millennials and women, especially crave more leadership training from their employers. In a 2016 Deloitte survey of millennials, 63 percent said their leadership skills were not being fully developed. And in a 2015 study of female employees by the e-learning company Skillsoft, nearly 70 percent of the more than 450 women surveyed said their employers did not provide adequate resources and support to help them drive their careers forward.
Old-School Training and Development Will Need to Shift
The soft skills that were important for success 10 years ago are different today. Specifically, principles of leadership are changing as workplace demographics shift and companies adopt more collaborative, team-based leadership models. As the authors of Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report write, “Ninety percent of companies are redesigning their organizations to be more dynamic, team-centric, and connected. These changes require not just new operating models, but a different type of leadership to mobilize and execute these models.”
And, as people live longer and careers stretch toward 60 years or longer, employees will need more on-the-job continuous training to stay ahead of the curve.
Coursera for Business
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