Soft Skills 101 is a six-part series looking at the emergence of soft skills as an essential requirement of any job. In Part 2, we look at what these skills are and how they are crucial in a working environment.

Staff with high levels of soft skills can contribute to better performance on key metrics that lead to business success, according to Deloitte Access Economics’ report Soft Skills for Business Success.

There is quantitative evidence to show how staff with higher levels of emotional judgement help to lower staff turnover and are better placed help the businesses to reach global markets, the report states.

What are the top soft skills to have?

Professor Lawrence Cavedon, Associate Dean, Computer Science and IT, at RMIT University believes the key skills to have are:

  • A willingness to learn
  • adaptability
  • interpersonal and communication skills
  • respect for the ideas of others
  • organisational skills
  • customer focus

Although teamwork is missing from the list, Professor Cavedon says the key skill is “implied in both interpersonal and communication skills and respect for the ideas of others”.

Adam Shapley managing director of Hays Information Technology says a willingness to learn is important in the fourth industrial revolution.

“Many jobs are seeing at least part of their duties automated and there’s no doubt that technological change is impacting all industries and jobs,” he says. Research from Deloitte has suggested that the half-life of learned skills is now about five years.”

A willingness to learn means you put in the effort required to stay up-to-date in your job.

“You are genuinely interested in new developments and the changing demands in your field. Crucially, you are proactive in upskilling to remain employable and relevant,” Shapley says.

While employees can’t always predict what and when things will change, there needs to be an ability to adapt the way they work.

“Some people find change confronting or uncomfortable, but you need to learn to change to remain successful,” Shapley says. “For example, learn how to troubleshoot a new system or try new strategies to overcome a problem.”

Interpersonal and communication skills cover both verbal and non-verbal communication skills, including body language; eye contact; and facial expressions. It can also refer to manners; business etiquette; attitude; and how personable an employee is.

Shapley says it also covers consultative skills – something employers increasingly ask for these days.

“[That is] being able to talk professionally with people at all levels of an organisation to develop strong working relationships, manage social interactions with others, and contribute positively to the team and organisation,” he says.

Interpersonal and communication skills lead to diversity of thought -- necessary in today’s world of work.

“Having respect for the ideas of others means that when collaborating with others,” says Shapley. “You remain professional and open to the perspectives of others – even if they differ to your own. You don’t put other people down for their views.”

Rounding off the list of must-have soft skills are organisational skills, which means being able to manage time to ensure all tasks are completed to deadline; and customer focus, which requires employees to look at problems through customer’ eyes.

Applying these skills

When it comes to incorporating these skills in the workplace, it is important for employees to apply their learnings to do their job better, solve new problems and collaborate with peers to exchange knowledge and ideas.

For employees, a willingness to learn will help them demonstrate their ability to pivot to a new role or area of responsibility as things change.

“Don’t be discouraged by failure – sometimes, this is part of the learning process. If a new solution doesn’t work, think of another approach that might,” says Shapley.

Having interpersonal and communication skills will help engage and build positive relationships both internally and externally.

Shapley says keeping the lines of communication open by being approachable, show a willingness to listen; explain how to solve problems; and be empathetic to what others are saying.

“Be aware of your non-verbal communication too and be courteous and respectful when talking to others,” he says. “Being personable and demonstrating a positive attitude are also important.”

If your team is interested in soft skills training to suit your organisation, you can register your interest here.