Jobs Require Both Soft Skills and Hard Skills

corporate_testimonialsIn an economy and culture that demand continual education and addition of skills, students find they need to develop diverse skills. Each job requires specific hard skills that are unique to the work of that occupation. Each job also requires a multitude of soft skills that cross occupations and are needed in every job. Students who develop both skills sets have an advantage in their careers.

The Education Advisory Boards says that students who develop both hard and soft skills become “T-shaped professionals” who have the most promising outlook for employment. These students develop soft skills or baseline skills as the top of the T and the important technical skills as the base/stem of the T.

Burning Glass Technologies report The Human Factor analyzed 25 million job postings to determine which skills are most valued by employers, in each of 15 job families. Burning Glass Technologies defines baseline skills as skills that employers are looking for across many occupations. These may be soft skills such as “people skills” and also often they include basics such as Microsoft Word and Excel. Across 15 career areas, employers most commonly ranked communication skills as the most important skill in 13 areas and the second most important skills in the last two career areas. Organizational skills and writing are the top second and third baseline skills demanded across all career areas.

When employers spell out needed skills and devote space to naming them in job postings, it suggests that these skills may be difficult to find The Human Factor states, creating a skills gap. Writing is the top skill according to the report with the largest gap between employer demand and workers with that skill, across all occupation groups. “Large gaps appear in roles that have clear and obvious writing requirements, such as marketing, and also occupations where the writing requirements may be less obvious such as IT roles, where programmers are often required to write technical documentation and support professionals must communicate fixes and procedure to clients. Sales is another area where this skill is in demand, since writing strong proposals and compelling pitch messages are critical to closing deals.”

Even in occupations where it would seem that the demand for hard skills would outweigh soft skills, workers need to have a combination of both. For example, the largest growth in demand, among STEM professionals, between 2014 and 2015, were for soft skills of creativity, team work/collaboration, quality assurance, detail-oriented and building effective relationships. Communication skills were mentioned in more than 37 percent of STEM job postings.
It is no surprise to adults who are seeking to finish their educations that these skills are in demand. People understand what it takes to be successful and most rank a mixture of hard skills and soft skills as very important:
• 85 percent say detailed understanding of how to use computers is extremely or very important
• 85 percent say the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds is important
• 85 percent say training in writing and communications is important
• 82 percent say access to training to update skills is important.

The key point for all stakeholders is that job seekers and employees can learn these skills, and employers can have an active role in education opportunities for their employees. Many soft skills are a product of personality, but people also can develop organization, writing and communication skills as they work. Employers can encourage their workers to gain these skills through courses and a planned education path. Employers don’t have to, and shouldn’t, wait for employees that possess the needed skills to come along.

Recent studies from Harvard and Stanford have also shown the importance of both soft skills and hard skills in the job marketplace. These studies show “that jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater wage growth than others. In addition, employment and wage growth has been strongest in occupations which require both strong social skills and a high level of cognitive skills.”