The most valuable employees possess a healthy combination of soft and hard skills. The specific hard skills can land an individual their dream job, but it is the non-measurable soft skills that make the individual a distinguished professional.
Job descriptions often contain a list of both – soft and hard – skills. Both sets of skills are crucial to the success of the company, just as they are essential for the career success of an individual. Skills gaps and the shortage of talent are expected to cause a loss of 8.5 trillion dollars by 2030 in the US alone. It’s a significant issue. Strategies of companies include workers with well-rounded skills as a crucial component, and yet many companies do not do much for training employees and updating their skill set. According to the OECD automation report, only 31 percent of the total employees at risk of losing jobs through automation had received any professional training in the preceding 12 months. Companies need to prioritize training and development of skills.
Soft skills and hard skills complement each other. An individual cannot succeed just on the basis of one set of skills (either hard or soft). If an individual excels at hard skills but lacks the necessary soft skills, he/she is bound to fail. For instance, if a brilliant software engineer knows how to tackle all software-related problems, but fails to get along with other team members, he may lose his job and his career may be affected. On the other hand, if a software engineer knows how to work well with others but does not know how to do his work properly, his career will also suffer.
Employees are hired for their hard skills and retained for their soft skills. If an individual already possesses soft skills, it’s easier for companies to train him/her in the hard skills required for the job. The training required to develop soft skills and hard skills varies greatly.
The overall performance of employees will improve only through improvement in both – hard and soft skills.
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Improving the Hard Skills of Employees
By providing hard skills training, employers pave the way for the professional growth and development of the employees. Through the analysis of various studies, the top in-demand hard skills have been narrowed down to eleven in 2023. These include data analytics, digital marketing, SEO, product management, financial reporting and analysis, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), cybersecurity, web development, cloud computing, DevOps, Customer Relationship Platform (CRM), and UX design.
The challenge with hard skills is that requirements keep changing with the advancement of technology. Employers can adopt these strategies to enhance the hard skills of the employees:
Determine the Skill Gaps
Each role in an organization has specific hard skills associated with it. Identify these hard skills and then conduct performance evaluations and skills assessments of the employees in those roles. Past performance reviews and the opinions of current managers will provide a starting point. The skill gaps will become obvious wherever employees demonstrate a lack of expertise or proficiency in crucial hard skills.
Target the Gaps With Training
Wherever gaps have been identified, provide targeted training to enhance or develop those hard skills. The skill gaps can be addressed through internal training sessions, external workshops, seminars, or specialized training sessions with experts. Online courses like the Excel VBA course are excellent for acquiring the targeted skills. Encourage employees to learn and develop their skills while working on real projects (on-the-job training) as well. Assign them tasks that challenge their abilities and provide support and guidance throughout the process.
Cross-training and Job Rotation Opportunities
Allow employees to gain exposure to different areas of your business by providing cross-training and job rotation opportunities. This helps them develop a broader skill set and a deeper understanding of various roles within the organization.
Mentoring and Coaching
Mentors can provide valuable insights, share their knowledge and expertise, and help employees overcome obstacles. Pair employees with experienced mentors or coaches who can guide them in developing their hard skills.
It’s essential to encourage employees to stay updated with the latest trends and developments in their respective fields. Acquiring and improving hard skills is a continuous process. Fortunately, it is easy to provide targeted training in specific hard skills to employees.
Developing Soft Skills of Employees
According to NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), employers ranked soft skills like written communication, problem-solving, and team working abilities highest when asked to state the skills they look for in candidates. On the other hand, contrary to common assumption, computer skills and technical skills received a considerably lower ranking.
Developing soft skills is trickier because these are harder to measure. It’s comparatively more difficult to assess the actual skill gaps. Additionally, cultivating a soft skill is a complicated process. Leaders have to use various methods and activities for developing each required soft skill. Here are some tips for developing the soft skills of employees:
Increase the commitment of the employees toward the development of soft skills:
Evaluate which soft skills are key to the company. Figure out the approach to these skills in the company culture. Identify the soft skills that receive the most appreciation. Highlight how these soft skills meet the organizational goals as well as cover the gaps in the skills of the employees. Emphasize how the specific soft skills will help in the personal career growth of the employees as well as in the advancement of organizational objectives. Outlined below are some soft skills that may need to be developed, along with action steps to help cultivate those skills:
Written communication skills: Since most employers value this skill highly, this is the first one to tackle. This skill includes the level of proficiency of employees in creating reports, text messages, and other forms of written communication.
- Invite experts and organize workshops.
- Conduct writing exercises and introduce a competitive element if possible.
- Provide employees with tools that can aid writing.
- Create a grammar and writing style guide to which employees can refer.
- Make available samples of acceptable written communication so that the employees can get a better idea of the expectations.
- Provide constructive criticism.
Problem-solving skill: This is another soft skill that is highly valued in the workplace. Problem-solving requires employees to process information, think critically as well as creatively, and come up with innovative solutions. Therefore, problem-solving can be termed a complex skill.
- Hold group brainstorming sessions where all inputs are encouraged and appreciated and employees can learn from each other.
- Encourage employees to brain-boosting games in their free time. Recommend games that require creative thinking skills.
- Provide root cause analysis training to employees.
- Engage employees in simulation exercises
- Provide case studies that demonstrate unique ways of solving problems.
- Introduce employees to various problem-solving models and encourage them to try and apply those in real-life scenarios
Teamworking ability: For the achievement of individual and organizational goals, employees will have to, at various points, collaborate and work together in teams. Employees need to possess (or cultivate) teamwork ability for fruitful collaboration.
- Engage employees in teambuilding activities like scavenger hunts or other team-based games.
- Conduct role-playing exercises that highlight the importance of teamwork.
- Provide incentives for the excellent performance of the team as a whole.
Time management: This skill, again, is crucial for attaining personal and organizational objectives. While time management is a skill that comes naturally to some people, it can also be cultivated by putting in adequate effort and learning as well as practicing techniques.
- Conduct workshops on time management techniques to ensure that employees are aware of the techniques at their disposal.
- Play offline time management games with your colleagues.
- Provide time-tracking and time-management apps to your employees.
- Provide incentives for completing tasks in a certain time frame.
Leadership: This is also a complex, but valuable skill in an employee. When an individual possesses charismatic leadership skills, he/she can drive the motivation of entire teams, keep them on track, avoid delays, and successfully achieve targets.
- Invite great leaders to conduct seminars.
- Start mentorship programs.
- Provide employees with good leadership literature.
- Encourage employees to take up leadership courses.
- Assign stretch projects.
- Delegate authority and put people in situations that will inspire self-confidence.
Be a Role Model
Because soft skills are people skills, these are best learned directly from other people. Leaders and managers should exemplify strong soft skills in their everyday interactions and behaviors. Employees look up to their superiors for guidance, so it’s essential to demonstrate desired soft skills. Leading by example sets the tone for the entire organization. Even better, when the leaders demonstrate that they themselves are open to learning and acquiring the soft skills they are deficient in, it creates a culture that is favorable to the development of skills and growth. The learning of skills becomes a part of company culture. The company can also encourage the leaders to hold sessions on soft skills they excel in or which they deem extremely beneficial and essential to the organization.
Offer Opportunities for Practice
Create opportunities for employees to practice their soft skills in real-life scenarios. These opportunities could be a part of group projects or cross-functional collaboration. Encourage employees to step outside of their comfort zones and apply the skills they are learning in practical situations. According to a 2022 Linkedin report, one of the signs of excellent work culture is the provision of opportunities to learn and grow.
In case of skills gaps, upskilling is a better option than replacing employees. The conservative estimate of the cost of replacing an employee is nearly 1.5 to 2 times the annual salary of the employee. In order to cover the skill gaps, improve overall employee performance, and better serve the interests of the company, it is essential to help employees work on their hard and soft skills.