The Science Behind Soft Skills, Their Demand, and Long Term Employability

CoachHub · 13 April 2022 · 4 min read

Without people skills, technical skills can only take an employee so far. Even in technically driven roles, employees need effective communication to coordinate projects and market their value to clients and colleagues. The reality is, discussions and negotiations will always frame our work, and these soft skills have the ability to make or break a project. That means a team’s ability to convince and connect can play a significant role in a company’s overall performance.

Soft skills are often thought of as innate abilities that cannot be easily acquired. Whether it’s the gift of the gab, intuition, sensitivity, or even something that no one can quite put their finger on, soft skills provide tangible value. They are the X-factor that makes certain employees stand out.

Despite a hazy understanding of soft skills, more and more companies are prioritizing them over technical competencies. In 2021, employers cited communication, coordination, and adaptability as the most desirable skills for employees. The reason?

For most employers, hiring for soft skills is a long term play. Employees with base level competencies coupled with the ability and drive to learn often have greater long term potential than their technically sound, but less adaptable peers. But what exactly are soft skills, can they be acquired, or is hiring for soft skills just a matter of luck?

What are soft skills exactly?

Before we talk about how to train for soft skills, we need to talk about what they are. Most HR professionals agree that soft skills are a combination of character traits and interpersonal skills. These include (but are not limited to) creativity, leadership, adaptability, time management, and more. At first glance, these skills may appear conceptually ‘airy’, but soft skills are firmly linked to one’s emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ.

Without getting too much into human anatomy, our EQ (also known as EI), is known to be regulated by several parts of the brain, including the prefrontal and frontal cortices, amygdala, and the nucleus accumbens. Research has also shown that our ability to perceive and regulate these emotions can be strengthened when we are mindful of the way we respond to external stimuli. In other words, the parts of the brain responsible for soft skills can be made stronger. That means, soft skills can be trained!

In case you’re still not convinced, picture this. Whenever we meet an artistically or musically inclined individual, our first instinct might be to praise or envy them for possessing special talent. What many don’t realise is that behind every music or visual masterpiece lies years, even decades, of hard work and dedication.

Move closer to the corporate world, and you have skills such as public speaking, something that can easily be tapped on by the average employee for sales calls and presentations. Public speaking experts say that the skill takes 10,000 hours to master. Of course, most employees can’t afford to spend 10,000 hours to become masters of public speech. But they don’t need to, either. With deliberate practice, our ability to communicate, relate to others, and pitch ideas successfully can and will improve.

There’s a Chinese proverb that goes: It takes 10 years to sharpen a sword. Likewise, soft skills cannot be acquired overnight. They have to be honed patiently over time.

Employees want to pick up soft skills, too

Employers aren’t the only ones demanding soft skills. Being in the heart of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we live in a time where technical skills almost become obsolete the minute they are picked up. For example, once thought to be the successor to Javascript in the mid 2010s, CoffeeScript hit a sharp decline in 2019 due to the evolution of other languages and is simply thought of as a novelty rather than a highly marketable skill today.

CoffeeScript isn’t the first skill to go out of style in the modern economy, and it certainly won’t be the last. The simpler and more user-friendly Canva is also threatening to dislodge Photoshop from its position as the top photo editing platform. Newer, fresher, and easier ways of doing things are constantly popping up in every industry, putting the pressure on employees to upskill just to keep their head above water.

Soft skills, on the other hand, will likely stay in demand for a long time. Unlike technical skills that can be time sinks, soft skills are transferable and can be applied to a wide variety of roles. Employees who invest in these skills tend to feel more secure in their employability as well. That’s because they are the ones who will adapt and come out on top, no matter what curveballs the market throws.

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Every person, every role, every situation calls for a different set of soft skills. With the advent of hybrid work, the workplace has become even more fragmented, with each employee’s working situation becoming more distinct from the next.

Through CoachHub’s pool of 3,500 certified coaches and advanced algorithms, we can recommend the exact programs that will boost performance and work satisfaction for each individual employee.

Our digital coaching programs are supplemented by extensive libraries that allow workers to browse resources within their areas of interest. As they advance, they will be able to look back on their soft skills journey through digital progress trackers and fine tune their strategies along the way.

CoachHub has an extensive track record of fostering professional development, leadership, diversity and inclusion (D&I), and more amongst employees to create better, happier, and healthier workforces. If you want to reap the rewards of having employees that possess the X-factor, reach out to us, or for more information visit CoachHub Academy.

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CoachHub is the leading global talent development platform that enables organizations to create a personalized, measurable and scalable coaching program for the entire workforce, regardless of department and seniority level. By doing so, organizations are able to reap a multitude of benefits, including increased employee engagement, higher levels of productivity, improved job performance and increased retention. CoachHub’s global pool of coaches is comprised of over 3,500 certified business coaches in 90 countries across six continents with coaching sessions available in over 60 languages, to serve more than 500 clients. Our programs are based on advanced R&D from our Coaching Lab, led by Prof. Jonathan Passmore and our Science Council. CoachHub is backed by leading tech investors, including Sofina, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Molten Ventures, Speedinvest, HV Capital, Partech and Silicon Valley Bank/SVB Capital. In September 2021, CoachHub acquired French digital coaching pioneer MoovOne to build a global champion focused on jointly democratizing coaching.
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