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.
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.
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.