Why you need to be hiring for soft skills

soft skills
Bianca Healey


written on May 17, 2017

Soft skills are increasingly attractive to organisations. So why haven’t job seekers received the memo?

Employers desperately want soft skills – but the workforce hasn’t caught up yet.

A new report commissioned by Deakin University shows a big gap between what recruiters are looking for in candidates and what job-seekers are putting out there in the hope of getting hired.

What are soft skills exactly? Researchers point to communication, including active listening, teamwork and negotiation, problem-solving and emotional judgement. Occupations that prioritise these skills are expected to account for two-thirds of all jobs in Australia by 2030. But around a quarter of employers say they are having difficulty recruiting entry-level candidates who have these soft skills.

The report, published by Deloitte Access Economics: Soft skills for business success is based on analysis of data by Deakin and Deloitte, along with insights from LinkedIn and Workible among others. It emphasises the importance of identifying and measuring soft skills – in order to better understand areas that need to be improved in the Australian workforce.

Researchers looked at more than 175,000 resumes and around 160,000 job listings across 33 sectors in Australia from online and mobile job site, Workible.

While soft skills are nine times more likely to be endorsed by others on individual’s LinkedIn pages compared to technical skills, less than 1 per cent of Australians report having any soft skills on their LinkedIn profiles.

The gap between job market demand for soft skills and the lack of supply is a problem, says DeakinCo. CEO Simon Hann, who thinks that “people don’t have the confidence to claim skills that they are not able to verify.”

It also has an impact on HR’s ability to recruit good candidates.

Data from Workible and LinkedIn show that 69 per cent of HR decision makers in Australia and New Zealand reported that the top reason (45 per cent) they found it difficult to fill leadership roles was due to a lack of soft skills among job applicants.

What needs to change?

Seeing as demand for soft skills currently exceeds supply by 45 per cent, Australian businesses need to develop the ability to identify soft skills in candidates – and strengthen these skills in their workforce.

“As the lines between professions and industries get blurred, soft skills will become the new job currency,” says report author and Deloitte Access Economics partner John O’Mahony.

“It is essential for businesses to invest in developing and measuring soft skills of their people in order to future-proof their operations.”

It could even have a noticeable impact on the bottom line.

“Contributing to overall staff productivity, employees with more soft skills could increase business revenue by over $90,000 and enable our nation’s economy to thrive now and into the future.”

How HR can recruit for soft skills

It can be difficult to recruit for soft skills, particularly since candidates are unlikely to showcase how they have achieved positive outcomes using soft skills on their CV.

Individuals also tend to overstate their abilities and employers and recruiters can be subject to unconscious bias, such as thinking that people with English as a second language have poorer communication skills.

However, there are ways to better improve your ability to select candidates with strong soft skills. Along with structured interviews, game-driven recruitment and psychometric testing geared towards identifying specific abilities, hiring managers should also identify, name and describe  the high priority soft skill behaviors required for each position – and build these criteria into the basic job requirements for the role.

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6 thoughts on “Why you need to be hiring for soft skills

  1. The reality of ‘soft skills’, as defined in this article, is that they come from one key base line: ‘experience’. Communication, including active listening, teamwork and negotiation, problem-solving and emotional judgement are the product of practice – usually acquired, in my opinion, by direct and constant involvement in the workplace (not necessarily one fixed work place either); by personnel who bring the core ‘hard skills’to make the business function and can then their soft skills can be nurtured to grow and develop.

    The focus on recruiting fresh graduates with an assumption the soft skills already exist, defies logic. As a former Boss of mine once said; “Essentially the possession of a University Degree demonstrates only proof that the graduate can absorb knowledge, apply that knowledge and interpret that knowledge.

    Applying my assumption, today’s emerging graduates (provided they engage in the workforce); should generally be able to acquire all the necessary soft skills, in time to address the predicted shortfall!!

  2. Hi, its an interesting topic of discussion however from my research and assessment of Australia’s workforce over the years in terms of soft skills defiency is correlated to our culture and our school. Therefore the deficiency is a self fulfilling prophecy. So to explain if one located the Hofstede cultural dimensions theory at https://geert-hofstede.com/australia.html you may find your answer by typing in Australia as the country and exploring these criteria: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation and indulgence.

    A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the “winner” or “best-in-the-field.” This value system starts in school and continues throughout one’s life – both in work and leisure pursuits.

    A low score (Feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine).

    Australia scores 61 on this dimension and is considered a “Masculine” society. Behavior in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. Australians are proud of their successes and achievements in life, and it offers a basis for hiring and promotion decisions in the workplace. Conflicts are resolved at the individual level and the goal is to win.

    The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

    Australia, with a score of 90 on this dimension, is a highly Individualist culture. This translates into a loosely-knit society in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families. In the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative. Also, within the exchange-based world of work, hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do.

    John- says. Is it any wonder why young and older employees do not have soft skills to the level that is needed? As the above information provides. Even in our school system who is taught these skills. Education is more about research skills, analytical skills, science and maths and English. In English we mainly learn how to communicate through documents and analyse themes in movies or plays. Is it any wonder when students leave school then go onto uni still without soft skills training but high on technical training come out with a degree but do not know how to fully interact with staff. They do the job and get paid for it and pick up the culture of the company.

    to change to future of jobs we need the government to change the school system and have it as a core subject. Then with any university have it as a core subject. Then we will get a much better workforce no matter what industry it is.

    John Carter

  3. I agree with Colin that experience plays a big part in the development of both ‘soft’ and hard skills. I’m a devotee of appreciating emotional abilities (soft) and cognitive skills (hard) as distinct but interrelated attributes and that the upper and lower limits of the development continuum for each is pretty well established by the time we enter the workforce. In the case of soft skills, my ‘experience’ tells me that the development continuum is much shorter and definite for soft skills (at least by the time we enter the workforce) and we’re often frustrated in workplace L&D efforts when we don’t get the results we’re looking when we seek to ‘develop’ soft skills. The example that comes to mind is effort to develop leadership abilities vs management skills; most individuals have a much greater scope to develop hard skills before hitting their limit, than they do before hitting their soft skill limit.

    When it comes to deciding to make an employment offer to applicant A or B – I totally agree, make the call on soft skill attributes, the hard skills can be developed much more readily.

  4. The term ‘soft skills’ is not useful. I prefer the term ‘core skills’. So you have core skills and technical skills – works well.

  5. A recent postgraduate perspective:
    Indeed, it is challenging to showcase soft skills on a CV without much – or any – Australian work experience to support.

    ** To do: update CV **

  6. Discussions about skills would be helped by dropping the soft/hard dichotomy. Most jobs need some use of social skills (communication and interpersonal skills). ‘Soft skills’ perpetuates the gendered nature of these skills and implies they are easy and simple to acquire and use, in contrast to the ‘hard’ skills. Professionals can help people develop a more realistic approach to careers by helping them to see the importance of social skills regardless of the job.

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