Soft Skills 101 is a six-part series looking at the emergence of soft skills as an essential requirement of any job. In Part 4, we examine how human skills must combine with technical know-how to bring innovation and growth to an organisation.
Technology is evolving the way we work, but it won’t lead to a dystopian future of rising unemployment, aimless career paths and empty offices.
In Deloitte’s latest report, Building the Lucky Country, the research firm dispels any myths that robots will send unemployment soaring.
Instead, in the new world of work, companies must make braver choices when it comes to hiring employees in order to stay ahead of its competitors.
Deloitte Access Economics partner and lead report author, David Rumbens says jobs will increasingly require “cognitive skills of the head rather than the manual skills of the hands”.
This will not only impact employees who aren’t prepared with the right guidance and skills demanded by an evolving economy, but also employers who stick to hiring people with limited skill sets.
High cost of focusing on tech skills
Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources Officer at Elmo Software told Information Age that, due to the technology skills shortage faced by industries five to ten years ago, companies are now paying the price for hiring employees with only a certain set of skills.
At the time, anyone with technical skills was snapped up and those with non-technical skills were being left behind.
“Unfortunately, businesses have relied heavily in the past on a tech stack, system, process, or service that was new and better,” Watt says.
“[This] also meant that they did not innovate or challenge processes, and instead [they] acted on the words of their employees, end-users or customers.”
From soft to human skills
For Australian workers to become more productive and valuable they need to move away from the notion that having “soft skills” is somehow less important than technical skills.
According to Jessica Mizrahi, Associate Director, Deloitte Access Economics, some people think that “soft skills” means “easy skills”.
“This is definitely not true. Sometimes developing and measuring the 'soft' skills can be the [hardest],” she says.
Watt also doesn’t agree with the term ‘soft skills’ because, in her experience, these are physically and mentally harder skills to use.
“People are often challenged by these skills and even delay or avoid them,” she says. “Human interaction, perception and perspective are unique to each person and there is no one standard operating procedure to deliver or practice – [we] are complex creatures.”
Although she says it’s a “generalisation”, technical skills are easier to learn, deploy and improve.
“People skills are complex, and when delivered incorrectly, can create vacuums or worse, upset people,” Watt says. “Sadly, the fallout of only focussing on technical skills can have a catastrophic impact on a business’ results and on its people, such as increased stress, burnout, conflict, fixed mindset, failure demand, churn rate, reduced innovation and performance.”
Combining technical skills with human skills
Companies still hiring employees for their technical skills only and prioritising them over the broader needs of its people and growth strategy, are applying a narrow lens to their future growth.
“A company that wants to achieve greatness through its people will leverage non-technical, soft people skills as well as technical expertise. This is what will set them apart from competitors,” says Watt.
These unique interpersonal and creative skills will be central to evolving an organisation and will require them to focus less on the technical skills when it comes to hiring new graduates.
Businesses will need to refocus on hiring graduates with the ability to problem solve, communicate, and be held accountable for their decisions.
Dr Robert Kay, Executive Director and Co-founder of Incept Labs feels there will always be technical roles that have a low soft skill component – though they are likely to be relatively rare.
“The only reason to hire someone without soft skills is usually because their technical skills are so rare, or of such high quality, that the organisation is willing to compensate for the lack of soft skills just to have access to [those] technical skills,” he says.
According to Dr Kay, when you look at the factors that drive promotion of staff across a wide range of industries, it’s always the soft skills that are at the top of the list.
“People generally need to work with other people, and to work with people you need soft skills,” he says.
While business outcomes often require strong creative technical solutions, they also require people with the ability to understand customer/client problems to communicate the solutions.
Deloitte’s Rumbens believes every problem requires someone to work out a solution and the “world isn’t running out of problems”.
Building these solutions nearly always requires teamwork across functional units, says Professor Lawrence Cavedon, Associate Dean, Computer Science and IT, at RMIT University.
“I would argue that a successful business, especially one providing IT and computing solutions needs a strong mix of both.”