Last updated: 19.03.24

Soft Skills Training : addressing the problems hidden in plain sight


Picture a typical training programme. If you’re thinking business-wide, it’ll likely be filled with compliance training, your GDPR, fire safety and manual handling. A graphic designer might have training on animations, using Illustrator and tips on how best to edit photos. A marketing executive might have some extra training on Google Analytics or writing for SEO.

As these examples illustrate, training programmes are usually filled with resources for skills that are technical, ones that can easily be acquired and built on through knowledge gain. They are skills that can easily be transferred to their jobs. For example, returning back to the marketing executive, following their training they can immediately start using Google Analytics and reap the benefits.

Creating these training programmes is satisfying for the managers as the skills requirements is usually obvious and they can quite easily be remedied with a digital course or maybe a half-day workshop. They can then feel pleased with themselves that they’ve helped their team upskill and develop themselves.

But what’s missing from these programmes? These programmes are made up of technical or ‘hard’ skills, ‘soft’ skills are nowhere to be found. And why? Because they are the skills that are often not so clear cut.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the ones that help us work together. To relate to each other. To become better colleagues. They are human, personable, and consist of attributes such as empathy, curiosity, communication, creativity and collaboration. And they are vital to our businesses. In a world where AI is taking on more of our jobs, it’s the soft skills that will help us stand out.

But they are subtle. These are the training issues that are often hidden in plain sight. Where you can easily spot a lack in hard skills, it can be harder to identify if someone is lacking in a soft skill (not always though, obviously). But they are often there, hidden between the lines, in the conversations we have with our colleagues. It is rare people will have the self-awareness required to see if they need help with any soft skills, but they might say revealing comments.

Think back to conversations you’ve had with your team, did they include phrases such as: I’m working every evening, why isn’t everyone else?; When I work with that team, I never feel appreciated; I don’t know what to say. It’s these conversations that can send signs that maybe there is a soft skill issue at the heart, such as difficulties saying no to work, or a lack of confidence in collaboration with other teams, or a difficulty with public speaking.

But, despite this, businesses have had a tendency to ignore the soft skills requirement and try and turn it in to ‘hard skills’ training. Or even if they call it a ‘soft skill’, they’ll treat it the same way as a ‘hard’ skill, and just throw some digital training at it and hope that’s enough. But why? Why is there a preference toward hard skills training?

Hard skills are easy to measure

Hard skills training provides a direct, measurable and almost obvious outcome. For example, someone couldn’t animate videos, and now they can. So, whatever the need is, the training that will be sought out tends to fit into this category. Measuring success of training is a huge driver in businesses, so training that can easily be measured will be the one we’re drawn to.

In comparison though, soft skills are harder to measure and don’t provide concrete outcomes.  How do you measure… empathy? Curiosity? Willingness to learn? Kindness? Self-awareness? It isn’t easy, so we try and shy away from them.

Soft skill training is ‘too much work’

But it isn’t just that they are difficult to measure, there are also other biases we have against soft skills training. Let’s look at them and hopefully help you see why they are still worth pursuing.

Soft skills training is time consuming and takes a lot or practise

Soft skills training isn’t as simple as a training video or digital skills; a soft skills training programme might include some digital training, but also in-person workshops, and peer/mentor support. But setting up this elaborate training programme can take time, not to mention the training itself, which requires practice. It isn’t enough to read about them, or watch a video, you need to use them. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and to strengthen it you have to practise it a lot.

But the research speaks for itself. The European Journal of Training and Development reports a 14.5% increase in employee work performance due to employee’s acquisition of soft skills, and reported that career experts are saying that 93% of employers want to see soft skills of resumes. So, if we are recognising the positive contribution soft skills can make to a business, this time and practice must be worthwhile.

Learners are resistant to soft skills

Your learners might not recognise that they need these skills, or they might think they are already proficient. Maybe they think they are pointless or ‘wishy washy’. This attitude is hard to breakdown and might seem like it’s more effort than it’s worth.

But it is worth the effort. Find the evidence that supports the need for them (such as the stats shared in this article), and provide incentives for achieving them, such as rewards, and make it a team effort and take part in it too. Show them how vital they are to their development.

There’s a negative perception of soft skills in the business world

There is the myth that says soft skills equal weakness and can’t offer as much to a company as the hard, technical skills you can easily measure. But the research is showing that this is not the case and we need to start shifting the mindset. A 2019 survey carried out by LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report revealed that professionals and hiring managers say that soft skills are increasingly important today, and 92% of the respondents said that soft skills matter much more than hard skills.

Don’t get us wrong, we still need technical skills (of course we do!), but we also need a balance because if your colleagues can’t work together, or communicate or empathise with each other, then your business isn’t going to get far.

Soft skills will make your business stronger and more resilient

As you can see, we’re not the only ones singing the praises of soft skills, many pieces of research are highlighting the importance of these skills, and there are an increasing number of ‘top soft skills that employees need’ lists.

So, yes, they may not be as easy to spot than ‘hard’ skill requirements, and they might take longer to develop (though it could be argued that the learning journey for most training programmes isn’t in depth enough, but that’s a different matter) but they will be worthwhile. It’s about investing in your staff – in your business – and making them a strong, effective and resilient team your business will be proud of.

Rebranding soft skills

At Virtual College by Netex we recognise that soft skills aren’t ‘soft’ at all – they’re essential, crucial and integral to an employee’s wellbeing as well as a business’s success. That’s why we’ve chosen to re-brand them as Power Skills: core skills which provide the fuel for your organisation and your learners’ individual development.