During the course of a number of business-related activities, individuals are presented with ample opportunity to consider the skills present in others. Most of the time, the only skills we focus our attention on are the ones core to a particular function or task. Little thought is given to the all-encompassing traits that are applicable to a variety of circumstances: soft skills.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills, interpersonal abilities, communication capacity, emotional intelligence, and empathy potential – these are all variations of the same aptitudes which determine how professional people interact with one another.

Hard skills (we typically see them as directly teachable abilities) are vital requirements for accomplishing work tasks. Conversely, soft skills are the ones that determine how we carry out and communicate accomplishments. And companies are fast beginning to accept that soft skills are just as critical.

How do they fare?

A 2014 survey by online job search site CareerBuilder showed that 16% employers considered them more important than hard skills. Overwhelmingly, more than 75% of the same employers indicated that they used them as an indicator when seeking candidates for open positions. The reason for this? They would rather hire individuals who innately possessed the required soft skills and could train in the hard skills, as opposed to the other way around.

A gap in an organisation’s soft skills at large is a particularly chancy situation. This is because it likely means that the hard skills are not in use in the best possible manner. The Mind Tools online skills development portal gives straightforward examples of this. One is being good at getting clients but unable to keep them. Another is a high staff turnover with people needing ongoing re-training. In both these scenarios, interpersonal relationships suffer due to the lack of soft skills and their application, and as a result the organisation’s efficacy is sub-optimal.

Early in 2015, large-scale employer McDonald’s conducted a UK-based economic research study. Among the research’s findings were that over 50% of employers thought of certain secondary skills as more important than academic results. Yet over 50% of job seekers did not include or could not market their relevant skills in their employment applications.

Upskill for the future

Clearly, the skills paradigm is overdue for a shift in approach. Companies ought to be investing as many resources on soft skills training and retention as they do on knowledge-based training. Individuals should consider how to make the best use of cataloguing and applying the soft skills present in their co-workers. And theseskills should emerge more thoroughly as a commodity in the workplace, not as an afterthought.

The author’s professional mandate includes an array of skills evaluation and development training. The author additionally wishes to acknowledge and thank the above-mentioned organisations for freely offering information via their online portals.