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Overcoming the skills gap in the workplace

March 09, 2020

Soft skills are becoming increasingly more important in the workplace as there is a shift in which skills are deemed to be more useful and relevant in today’s market. Hard skills can often be developed and taught through training, whereas soft skills often encompass behavioural traits and cognitive skills which tend to be more difficult to learn. Certainly, with changes taking place at a rapid speed, organisations must be prepared as they no longer know which specific skills will be needed in the future.

However, based on current research, soft skills are becoming increasingly important. A report conducted by Deloitte has stated that ‘soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030’.[1] As a result, developing a talent strategy that embraces people with the ability to adapt to change if required is crucial in staying ahead of the curve.[2]

The rise of digital technology

A rise in digital technology and automation has created a level of uncertainty amongst both employers and employees and has resulted in the recognition and the growing importance of soft skills. According to Deloitte, nearly half of today’s jobs will have evolved and undergone significant change in the next ten years, and therefore, people will need to be able to adapt and remain engaged regardless of these developments.[3] Whilst there is thought to be significant job displacement in the future, new jobs will also be created that don’t currently exist. For instance, it is predicted that ‘65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist’.[4]

In both these new and evolving job roles, soft skills will become a key differentiator in the workplace as they are harder to automate, and as a result, will be more desirable. Machines will replace some jobs, but they will be unable to stimulate real and genuine human interaction. Due to this, social skills such as communication and teamwork will become some of the most valued competencies in the workplace.

Career progression and promotion

Furthermore, soft skills are transferable and will prove to be invaluable as the labour force moves towards becoming a mobile one with younger generations more likely to job hop than in the past. These skills certainly increase the value of the employee, with 94% of recruiting professionals believing those candidates with strong soft skills have a higher chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience, but weaker soft skills.[5] Accordingly, soft skills appear to be a key factor deciding whether or not one is to progress to the next stage of their career.

In particular, within the insurance industry, there is a considerable shortage of professionals who are both technical and have strong soft skills. It appears that the majority of the workforce underestimates the importance of soft skills and as a result are restricting their own progression because hard skills and technical expertise are no longer enough to secure a job in a competitive market. For instance, commissioned reports have discovered that circa 90% of human resource leaders perceive emotional and social skills as crucial in a globalising economy,[6] and creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence are noted to be the most in-demand soft skills of 2020.[7]

A common misconception is that soft skills are only relevant in roles that involve customer and client interaction. However, in an era where technical expertise is commonplace, soft skills not only enable hiring managers to quickly differentiate between candidates but also allow candidates to rapidly progress throughout their careers.

Barriers to soft skills development

Furthermore, whilst young professionals and students tend to focus on developing their technical skills and gaining formal qualifications before entering the workplace, research has recently stressed that graduates need to recognise that soft skills are just as, if not more, important as hard skills.[8] It has become clear that graduates are at a significant disadvantage if they leave university without work experience and the interpersonal skills required for the current job market.

As a result, experience and activities outside of academia must not be underestimated. For example, research by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) demonstrates that the majority (63%) of employers believe graduates who had undertaken work experience, internships or apprenticeships had the required soft skills, yet less than half (48%) thought this of graduates in general.[9] Consequently, a shift needs to occur in terms of teaching students these skills before they enter the workplace, as currently, this acts as a major barrier towards overcoming the soft skills gap.

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[1] Deloitte Access Economics, ‘Soft Skills for Business Success’, May 2017.

[2] Raconteur, ‘Future of HR’, October 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] World Economic Forum, ‘The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, January 2016.

[5] ICIMS, ‘The Soft Skills Job Seekers Need Now’, August 2017.

[6] Korn Ferry, ‘Five Ways to Get Young Recruits to Embrace Emotional Intelligence’, June 2018.

[7] LinkedIn Talent Blog, ‘The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020’, January 2020.

[8] Deloitte Access Economics, ‘Soft Skills for Business Success’, May 2017.

[9] ISE, ‘Internships Help Tackle Skills Gaps’.