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What are soft skills and what is the trend for the future?

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Soft skills are taking an increasingly important part and organisations are now interested in them as much as in diplomas. They play a key role in teams performance and therefore in the results of organisations. It is then essential to know what they cover and to recognize the skills that will need to be developed as a priority.

In this article:

  • Soft skills vs hard skills

  • What do soft skills cover?

  • How is this important for organisations and employees?

  • What trend for the future?

  • How to develop them?

  • Have you heard of mad skills?

Soft skills vs hard skills

Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work. They are most often developed outside school or university. They are opposed to hard skills which include purely technical skills: mastery of a tool, a machine, a software, a language, a computer language, a technique, a process...

To put it simply, soft skills are interpersonal and behavioural skills that help you work well with other people and develop your career.

What are we talking about?

The list differs depending on whether you are talking about a leader or an individual contributor, or if you work alone or in a team. However it is possible to classify them into six categories:

1. Communication: information exchange with others.

2. Interpersonal skills: interaction with others within a social group.

3. Leadership: positive influence that an individual has on his or her employees.

4. Learning: skills related to knowledge acquisition.

5. Intra-personal skills: skills related to the know-how and attitudes towards and for oneself.

6. Reflection and creative thinking: skills needed to solve problems. These skills make it possible to find relevant, logical or creative solutions.

How is this important for organisations and employees?

Today, a technical skill is valid for between 12 and 18 months according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Soft skills complement and reinforce hard skills. They cannot be reproduced by machines, even in our world where more and more tasks are automated. They are essential for a leader because people management is at the heart of their activity. They are also crucial for employees because they enable them to meet today's challenges. In addition, hard skills are not enough to perform well, especially if you work in a team or in close collaboration with other departments. The Stanford Research Institute International has determined that 75% of long-term success in a given position is based on soft skills, and only 25% comes from technical skills.

Another report from 2020 by World Economic Forum report estimates that

  • up to 40% of basic skills as we know them now should change in the next 5 years.

  • 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025

This means that even if you see yourself doing the same job in 5 or 10 years, you will still probably need to learn new skills because the way you will do the work will probably change.

Organisations must therefore identify the soft skills that will help their employees to perform and develop themselves by anticipating future internal and external changes they will have to face. This helps retain employees and attract the best talents.

What trend for the future

A large amount of research and articles have been published on this topic (LinkedIn, World Economic Forum, Forbes, Deloitte..). Conclusions sometimes differ, but clear trends emerge. Many of the new skills emerging in recent years are self-management skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. Here is a non-exhaustive list of soft skills that will play a key role in the next years.

For Leaders

For employees

  • Empathy

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Communication

  • Conflict management

  • Flexibility

  • Managing change

  • Creativity

  • Collaboration/Teamwork

  • Time management

  • Problem solving

  • Adaptability

  • Resilience

  • Stress management

How to develop them?

Of course through training, but not only. Keep in mind the 70-20-10 model. Managers have a key role to play in the development of their employees. We spend most of our one-on-ones talking about results and performance. We need to make the space to also discuss the skills that employee wants to develop and those that will be useful to his or her position. This will lead to high payoff development goals that meet the needs of individuals, teams and organization.

Then the manager must create opportunities to apply the new knowledge gradually (project, new task, partnership...) while giving coaching and feedback. Nothing beats experience to learn.

Focus on Mad skills

Hard skills, soft skills... and now, mad skills! We hear more and more about these "crazy skills". These are original qualities or skills acquired and developed through extra professional activities that can be useful to the company. For example, you can mention if you are captain or coach of a football team (leadership and team spirit) or e-sports player (resistance to pressure and decision making) or if you play a musical instrument (discipline) or if you have travelled around the world (openness).

Do not hesitate to place them on your resume especially if you have little experience.

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