Employees need soft skills communication skills

So-called “Soft Skills” in High Demand – for Now

Soft skills are trending. A number of recent studies disclose that employees with strong communication skills, can work collaboratively in teams, and take initiative in problem solving are in high demand.

Soft skills have always been important, but not always valued within an organization. So what’s changed?

A Tight Labor Market

The labor market is tightening, and, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, companies are having a difficult time in finding employees, not only with the technical skills required for a job, but also the soft skills.

Technical proficiency is no longer enough. You need the ability to communicate your ideas, demonstrate highly developed interpersonal skills, and work within a team.

LinkedIn’s study, just released, of 291 hiring managers in the U.S revealed that 59% of them believe that soft skills are difficult to find. In studying its members who changed jobs, LinkedIn identified the most sought-after soft skills among employers.

Soft skills

The social network also identified the least in-demand soft skills. Ironically, half of the least in-demand soft skills are ones often associated with leaders – such as management, team leadership, and coaching.

Soft skills

Will the Trend Last?

While it’s encouraging to learn that companies are recognizing the importance of soft skills during a tight labor market, will the trend last? History tells me “no.”

For too long, people in line positions, those in the organization that generate revenue, considered people in staff positions – the so-called soft skills people in HR, PR and marketing – as a drain on profits. The term “soft skills” in some organizations was a down right pejorative.

The job market goes up and down. Right now it’s up, so soft skills are in vogue. But when you’ve been in soft skills positions, as I have, you soon learn that your skills are quite dispensable.

Even when you’re in a staff position that saves the company money, you’re still vulnerable. For example, I managed the marketing communications department of a global insurance organization with 96 offices in the U.S. When I arrived, each office was outsourcing its design needs for brochures, invitations and other sales promotion materials.

I hired a designer and, over time, our department became the go-to source for these materials. By doing this work in-house, we saved the company many thousands of dollars in outside design fees.

But the insurance industry, in a historical pattern, experienced a soft market. And, as usual, the company started chopping heads. Where? In the soft skills areas. Nothing I said could persuade management to keep the designer. Head count had to drop.

So the offices went back to outsourcing design services.

When times are tough, will companies still value soft skills?

The optimist in me wants to believe that times have changed and that technical proficiency and soft skills are so intertwined they can’t be separated. The cynic in me says let’s wait and see.

History, unfortunately, has a habit of repeating itself.

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  1. As a “graduate” of the world of marketing you had me nodding my head in agreement with your account of how things normally play out when business begins to slip. Another area that is usually sliced and diced is advertising as many businesses take a DIY approach. It’s interesting to observe the trends, but I have to say I don’t miss any of it.

    • Marquita — In that same firm I mentioned, I also managed our advertising and the minute the results came out for a quarter, if they weren’t as good as expected, the CEO would run to my office and tell me to cut the number of ads for the next quarter. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  2. I often read about certain trends, always seems like a problem with it; when you hear about a trend it always seems to be past the pinnacle of that trend. Pretty soon another one comes around. Companies are constantly being reactive, and never seem to predict the next trend beforehand. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  3. Hi Jeannette. So glad to see communications skills listed at the top as I am a big supporter of Toastmasters.

    Just yesterday, I went into an agent’s office to renew my driver’s licence and insurance, and I thought to myself how poor that company was at training their staff. The girl who served me NEVER made eye contact with me the whole time she was attending to my needs. And she actually picked her teeth (with her finger!) and then proceeded to hand me a paper to sign. I was utterly disgusted and wanted to walk out. But living in a small community makes it hard to take a stand on issues like this.

    Thx for the great post.

    • Doreen — the skills of that agent were exactly the ones that companies are trying to improve. Your first contact with any organization is crucial. If you’re treated badly if reflects on the entire organization. Just one bad apple can spoil the basket.

  4. This is an interesting trend. For a while now our education systems have been focusing more on technical skills and many have questioned the value of liberal arts education, the kind of education that in fact develops soft skills. I remember once listening to a presentation by a principal in a large west coast PR firm lamenting the fact that people coming out of college with PR degrees know all about processes but beyond that “don’t know anything about anything.” As you suggest, these things tend to run in cycles.

    • Ken — it’s true that a lot of parents are questioning the value of a liberal arts degree that can cost six figures, but that doesn’t prepare a student with specific skills required in the marketplace. There has got to be a combination of both. If you have technical skills but can’t get along with your team, you’re not going to succeed. But you can’t simply have soft skills. You need to be able to something, too.

  5. Wow, I didn’t realize organization was so high on the list. Nice to know. I hope it continues. I think these skills are quite important for a happy workplace. Hopefully management realizes the need even in tough times. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Let’s see what happens. Agree with you that it’s up and down when it comes to soft skills. When hard times are back people with soft skills will have to go even though they frequently save money for the company.

    Actually like the soft skill critical thinking a lot and find it really valuable. People who lack that skill frequently can’t see the woods for all trees.

      • Seems I should advice them, doesn’t it:-)

        Seriously, when you have met as many heads of states as I have you wonder how a mediocre person can become president of a country. Critical thinking? That word is not in their dictionary. They have to be surrounded by a multitude of advisors when they have meetings because they are not able to think and answer for themselves. We should not forget though that some are very capable and just surround themselves with advisors in case a subject comes up that they don’t know all the details of.

        Let’s hope your country doesn’t elect another such person in November.

        • Catarina — I certainly hope our Republican Presidential candidate is not elected. He is totally ignorant of world affairs, and sorely lacking in the skill of critical thinking. What he knows about policy making wouldn’t fill a thimble.

  7. I read a lot of articles that talked about how soft skills are important. I never really thought that the soft skills are becoming a trend itself. Learning soft skills is great, but market changes so your skills may be in demand tomorrow then the next day it isn’t. This is a great post that explains this trend really well.

  8. I think a friendly personality is so much more important than people give it credit for. My husband is just one of those people that everyone likes. And he transitioned to a new industry where he was the under-dog. But he interviewed for 8 jobs over a couple of weeks and got 3 of them. The good news is that he is also very intelligent, dedicated and hard working, so people are happy with him once he gets the job. But his good-guy personality really opens a lot of doors for him.

    • Erica — so nice to hear about your husband’s pleasing personality — that’s a soft skill that is much in demand, witness the number of job offers he received. Must be nice to live with him, too!

  9. Great post. Unfortunately, I have to agree with you, appreciation of soft skills does seem to come and go out of fashion depending on the market. I did get a chuckle (albeit a sad one) that punctuality beat out critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability. The margin is small, but still…

  10. I think soft skills are always important whether a current trend in the marketplace or not. I worked in a technical field and although there were a few technical superstars who did well in spite of low soft skills, the ones who had solid soft skills to complement their technical abilities were the ones sought after for jobs.

    • Donna — your story warms my heart. So often soft skills aren’t recognized within a company. It’s good to know these skills were rewarded in your organization.