The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

We’re in the communication age, yet fewer people seem to be adept at communication than ever before. This has massive implications for the workplace, but most schools do not teach students business communication skills, by and large.

Asked to rate the soft skills most important to business in a Harris survey, executives selected communication eighth most often. Here are the nine soft skills that a majority of employers deemed important:

  • Work ethic
  • Dependability
  • Positive attitude
  • Self-motivation
  • Team-orientation
  • Multitasking ability
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Good communication
  • Flexibility

Soft Skills > Hard Skills

According to the poll, 77% of employers say these soft skills are just as important as the hard skills employees bring to their jobs. That is, a computer programmer with great programming skills who doesn’t like to work hard or show up on time will get fired, while a hard-working, dependable programmer with average skills will remain employed.

Indeed, Mark Murphy, an author on human resources, calculates that 89% of new hires who don’t work out in the first 18 months fail for reasons associated with attitude, not ability.

This has massive implications in the Lowcountry, where the job market is booming and good employees are coveted. The hard skills may secure jobs in the ascendant high tech, healthcare and manufacturing sectors, but soft skills will keep them and earn advancement.

SC Job Ready U
With that in mind, the state Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) has launched an online soft skills curriculum designed by the Clemson Workforce Development Center. The free program, called South Carolina Job Ready U offers an 11-module course covering topics such as basic employability, professional work ethic, Microsoft Office skills, critical thinking and reading comprehension.

Bob Bouyea, director of communications and marketing for DEW says the state’s goal is for everyone who wants a job to have one. “We do hear from businesses that applicants are missing these skills, like how to show up on time and how to become team player,” he said.

Executive Soft Skills
Of course, these are soft skills for non-professional job seekers. They serve as simply a pre-requisite for high-level professionals. For people in management positions, a whole other level of soft skills is required. These skills include leadership, strategic thinking, relationship-building, and change management.

The Harvard Business Review surveyed C-suite executives and found the day of the charismatic boss is over. Senior executives are most prized, according to the research, for their team-building and change management skills, not their own personal star quality.

A profile last year of former GE CEO Jeff Immelt portrayed a leader who listened, demonstrated empathy, and built consensus. These people skills don’t necessarily trump other requirements of a CEO – that they be aggressive, decisive and persistent, for example – but they are critical in the 21st-century workplace.