The value of soft skills is easy to underestimate. The name doesn’t help. It implies characteristics that are fuzzy, feel-good and nice-to-have, rather than robust or impactful. At a time when businesses are battling to hire software engineers, artificial intelligence (AI) experts and data scientists, do recruiters really care about things skills like creativity or time management?
New research from LinkedIn reveals that they do. In fact, finding employees with these characteristics is keeping business leaders awake at night just as much as the need for advanced coding skills such as C++ and Python is. In this year’s LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report, 86 per cent of UK talent professionals said that soft skills were more important to their company’s success than they had been previously – and 92 per cent said they were either as important or more important than hard skills.
Digital skills are valuable but have a limited shelf life. Flash, the must-have programming language of a few years ago, no longer even features on a ranking of the most in-demand hard skills compiled from LinkedIn insights. Cloud computing, the UK’s most in-demand hard skill this year, didn’t feature at all in 2008. This rapid cycle means that the ability to adapt and learn is at least as important as the specific skills somebody has when you hire them. The need to future-proof workforces is the reason why adaptability now ranks in the top three of the UK’s most in-demand soft skills.
Automation promises to replicate rigid technical skills, but it’s far more difficult for machines to learn interpersonal skills such as creativity and persuasion (the UK’s two most in-demand soft skills according to LinkedIn insights). Because these can’t be standardised or automated, they hold the key to differentiation and competitive advantage. While hard skills help to build new technologies, soft skills are vital for monetising them. There’s no point in building a state-of-the-art, AI-driven trading system if you don’t have the marketers and sales teams who can convince clients to use it.
Digital disruption demands new, “distributed” ways of working, with people in different time zones communicating through a combination of email and video calls while rarely meeting in person. Offering things such as flexible working is often one of the only ways for businesses to access scarce digital skills. The need for an imaginative approach to managing and inspiring increasingly extended teams pushes soft skills such as creativity and persuasion to the top of recruiters’ agendas. Creativity, persuasion, adaptability and collaboration were listed as the most in-demand soft skills the UK companies need, but have a hard time finding, based on LinkedIn data.
More appreciation of the value of soft skills puts pressure on recruiters to find dependable ways to identify them. Forward-thinking businesses aren’t satisfied with asking interviewees about how they solved challenges in the past, or watching their body language for clues about their personality. A growing number are giving candidates problems to solve, dropping them into unfamiliar situations, and then using a panel of observers to assess how they perform.
They’re also casting their nets wider and using methods (for example LinkedIn Talent Insights) to identify people with the potential to learn rather than just finding those who already have the right skills. In the workplace of the future, how you do things is just as important as what you can do.
by Jon Addison, Head of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn UK
Download the LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends report