Are technical skills more important than soft skills today for employees’ success in the work force? Personal experience suggests that many employers value technical/hard skills more than the soft skills. They are more willing to spend money to develop the former than the latter. For many, the soft skills will look after themselves.

Case in point: I was recently hired as part of a pilot project to improve a group of tech employees’ “soft skills.” One person, in particular, the client wanted me to work with was a talented tech person, who regularly experienced difficulty with his presentations. Most of the time his audience couldn’t understand the details of the applications he was developing for their use. He used so much technical jargon when presenting his ideas that they couldn’t follow him.

At first, he was resistant to the idea that he needed help. He told me that his immediate colleagues understood what he was trying to say, so what was the problem? It took awhile until he realized that he was the problem, or at least, his communication skills were. He began to show progress, albeit slow, annunciating his words more clearly. He also started to translate technical jargon into language his stakeholders could understand. And his presentation slides became easier to follow.

Unfortunately, after making excellent progress and achieving much success with him and the others in the group, the company pulled the plug on the pilot project. An influential senior manager convinced the rest of the management team that employees should pay for their own soft skills training. Yet, the company would still finance technical skills development. Definitely a shortsighted decision! Yet, not a surprising one. Diminishing the importance of soft skills is sadly, not uncommon.

What all organizations (particularly those in tech field, where the development of AI is leading to fewer jobs) need to recognize is that the demand for good soft skills is growing. And soft skills, such as the following, are key communication skills.

  • Communicating ideas
  • Problem solving
  • Team building
  • Taking responsibility
  • Being decisive
  • Conflict resolution
  • Negotiation skills

Why wouldn’t any employer want their employees to improve skills such as these? Possibly, part of the answer lies in the name itself: “soft skills.” After all, “soft” can be equated with weakness. But as Scott Stirrett, Executive Director of Venture for Canada points out in a Globe and Mail article, it’s human skills that we need most in today’s workforce. Human skills, such as thinking critically are absolutely essential, as the potential for automation replacing many jobs is becoming a reality today. Stirrett references entrepreneur, Seth Godin, who prefers the term “human skills” to soft skills, viewing it as a kind of “umbrella” term that can be further broken down into the following categories:

  • Self control
  • Productivity
  • Wisdom
  • Perception
  • Influence

I can’t imagine any employer or employee not wanting to improve their human skills, given the opportunity. A 2016, Business Council of Canada survey backs up this view. The Council notes that Canadian firms do not face “a comprehensive skills shortage.” Hiring managers surveyed said that the most in-demand skills are now the so-called soft skills. I truly believe that companies and government, particularly when it comes to working with employees in the technical fields, need to rethink what kind of professional development employees most need. Because, without appropriate business communication skills, employees will be left behind. And that benefits no one!

Do you need help improving soft skills? Contact me at The Language Lab.


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