In XXI century the workplace is more demanding, complex, collaborative, and diverse than it has ever been before. Searching candidates who will excel in this environment means finding people with the right balance of hard and soft skills.
Considering the dynamic business climate that we are currently facing, employers are become increasingly concerned with future-proofing their workforce. From ensuring their employees are resilient to change to investing in managers who can lead during times of uncertainty.
By 2020 the importance of soft skills will rise by a third . It means that candidates and employees will have to drastically adapt their skill set to keep up with the evolving demand. Innovation of new technology and socio-economic shifts are just a few of the reasons why the World Economic Forum (WEF) are anticipating a rise in demand for core work-related skills.
What are soft skills?
There is often used the term “soft skills” for everything that’s not considered a core, cognitive ability related to a job (like writing code for a developer or running data analysis for an analytics).
Unfortunately there is no general consensus in the terminology to be used to indicate such skills. Also there is no global unified soft skills taxonomy. A huge variety of terms are often used as synonymous of soft skills, such as: Generic Skills, Essential Skills, Life skills or Basic Skills, People Skills, Key Skills/Competences, Employability Skills, Core Skills, Transversal Skills [2,3]. Moreover the distinction between hard and soft is not always so easy because the comprehension of what a soft skill is may vary from context to context, from company to company: a skill may be considered as soft in a specific sector or working area but it may be considered hard in another one, for example, information analysis might be just useful soft skill for HR, but it is absolutely a hard skill for a business analytic role.
The University of Sydney defines soft skills like a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attribute, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients among others that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills . The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude” . Also, there is a some similarity between terms soft skills and competencies. So, such industry experts as Lombardo and Eichinger proposed next definition: Competencies are the skills and behaviors required for success that can be observed. In fact, soft skills contribute to work performance in combination with knowledge, technical (or hard) skills, attitude and personal characteristics (Picture 1.)
Picture 1. Soft skills role for work performance.
So, misunderstandings and different terms around the concept of “soft skills” will always be present, and each of them can exist and can be used. In NaomiHire we decided to take into consideration the definition proposed by Cedefop. It sounds like: Soft skills are cross-cutting across jobs and sectors and relate to personal competences (confidence, discipline, self-management) and social competences (teamwork, communication, emotional intelligence) . To make it more wider we include besides personal and social competences all those skills, attitudes and behaviours which lead to achieve results in a working place. We define soft skills as a measurable behavioral skills that contribute to success on the job. In other words, they give us the answer “how” employees do they work (but not “what” they do).
The historical overview.
The history of soft skills researches started from earlier 1973 with work “Testing for Competence Rather Than for “Intelligence” of psychologist David McClelland . He argued that assessment tools such as intelligence tests predict academic performance more than success on the job. McClelland suggested that the best test for selection and employment purposes would be one that assesses real job skills. During the 1970s, things began to change when the results of assessment centers began to influence the field (Bray, Campbell, & Grant, 1974) . Researchers discovered that different organizations using assessment centers were assessing roughly the same skills.They found substantial overlap across the skill sets for different jobs in different organizations. It became clear that a common set of competencies could specify the job requirements for a wide range of jobs across industries (Thornton & Byham, 1982) .
In 2000 Schippmann  established a bridge between competencies, roles, goals and business strategies. Thus, then was started era of soft skills modelling and it has continued to gain popularity till nowadays.
The strategic role of soft skills.
In today’s workplace the need for soft skills is widely considered as vital because of globalization, virtual offices, technology and increasing society diversity (in age, gender, education, ethnicity). We can find many reasons why soft skills modeling and using has become so popular. According to study of Aberdeen Group , the top drivers for using soft skills include:
- Alignment with business objectives
- Enhanced productivity
- Increasing workforce nimbleness
- Identifying and developing high potentials and the retention of top talent.
Why are soft skills so important to keep high level of employability? Because these are the skills that an individual uses to interact with, interpret or inform social and physical environments (Costin, 2002) . Moreover soft skills are strategic, not only because they can be applied in many different types of jobs, but also because they can empower persons, if these are aware of their own competences, to promote themselves in a proper way to find better jobs and positively contribute to the working
organizations. On labour market hard skills are considered as a pre-requisite to get a job interview, but candidates need soft skills to get (and then keep) the job. As a fact employers want to hire candidates who will “fit in” to the job.
According to CareerBuilder survey , 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. And almost 20% said they were more important than hard skills. In a report from the International Association of Administrative Professionals, OfficeTeam, and HR.com, 67% of HR managers said they’d hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if technical abilities were lacking . In other words, competency or soft skills modeling takes strategic objectives into consideration and is forward-looking.
Soft skills refer to the interpersonal characteristics that enable a person to interact effectively with others. In the age of AI disruption these skills will be highly important for employment and career movements for many workers. While an AI application can respond, analyze and predict based on the input it receives, robots and algorithms are not capable of producing authentic and genuine care and empathy. Rachel Russell, Director of Corporate Strategy & Marketing in Allegis Group said: “Whether you are an employer or a job seeker, the influence of innovation will change the way we work – but be prepared. Not only will AI make us all more technologically capable, it may also make us all more human” . As a result, soft skills remain the category of skills that will distinguish people from robotics in the nearest future.
Hiring for soft skills.
While generational categories can help recruiters anticipate a potential candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, people are still people with unique skills, capabilities, and potential. To hire the right person for the right job, you need a staffing strategy that incorporates soft skills criteria. Bruce Tulgan puts it this way: “On an organizational level, the first thing you need to decide is what soft skills really matter. You can’t have it all. You have to articulate which ones are really important… and then build them into your selection process”.
That means understanding what’s important to the organization and the role you’re trying to fill, figuring out what kinds of skills will mesh most seamlessly with how that organization gets work done, and prioritizing the skills that will matter. Soft skills modelling is a critical for achieving the company’s strategic goals and HR experts should take into consideration defined soft skills set when select candidates.
HR managers should ask themselves next questions for soft skills set modelling in their companies:
- Which competencies best differentiate “A” players (high performers) from “B” players (average performers) or “C” players (low performers)?
- Which behaviors have the greatest overall impact on outcomes, such as productivity, customer service, and employee engagement?
- Where efforts should be focused to gain the greatest performance improvement?
- Where key business strategies or initiatives may be at risk due to talent constraints?
A mismatch in soft skills can lead to bad hiring, which is very expensive for companies and can costs from 100% to 150% of employee’s annual salary.
So, soft skills are the real field where candidates truly compete to acquire the position. Employers know that when employees lack basic soft skills, it can hurt the
overall success of the organization.
Classification of soft skills.
The situation with classification of soft skills is even more complicated than with the term “soft skills”. There are many companies which provide “soft skills services” nowadays. They try to stand out with their soft skills or competencies models and propose different services around this zone. Most of propositions are around assessing soft skills for candidates or in-house employees.
After a deep and wide research on a variety of models, tools and skills framework developed in EU and US and, taking into consideration our experiences and information from companies, we developed a framework of soft skills to be used within the NaomiHire platform. Our aim is to provide structured, clear and useful library of soft skills for every company in the world. PETH Framework will help employers and candidates to choose needed soft skills from one library. That will predict the misunderstanding around different definitions and terms and both sides will better understand particular soft skills requirements and will name them with the same way.
PETH Framework at NaomiHire platform consists of 4 areas, 17 groups and about 300 soft skills there (Picture 2.). One of advantages of our model is possibility to find and choose soft skills and personalities for all level of employees: from trainee to senior executives. Every specialist/candidate can find and select soft skills which describe them in best way and every HR/recruiter can create soft skills requirements for every role.
Picture 2. PETH Framework structure.
Four areas (Personality, Efficiency, Thinking and Human – PETH) cover main sides of person’s behavior according to business-oriented approach.
Area 1. Personality
According to the survey conducted by Society for Human Resource Management , the majority of HR professionals (71%) believe that personality tests can be useful in predicting job-related behaviour or organisational fit. We implemented Big Five approach  to the personality area as one of the most popular and made it more wide. This area includes characteristic set of behaviors, emotional patterns, intelligence and self-development skills.
A1.1. Emotional stability/Emotional intelligence
A1.3. Flexibility and adaptability
General number of skills in area: 60.
Area 2. Efficiency
Efficiency area consists of soft skills which relate to ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money, and time in doing something or in producing a desired result. In a more general sense, it is the ability to do things well, successfully, and without waste. This area includes competencies describe candidate’s behaviors in pursuing results.
A2.1. Taking Initiative
A2.2. Managing Execution
A2.3. Focusing on Performance
General number of skills in area: 28
Area 3. Thinking
Thinking Skills are mental processes we use to do things like: solve problems, make decisions, ask questions, construct plans, evaluate ideas, organise information and create objects. There are many frameworks of thinking including Bloom’s Taxonomy , DeBono’s thinking tools  and Lipman’s model . Everybody has Thinking skills but not everyone uses them effectively. Thinking refers to the process of creating a logical series of connective facets between items of information. Thinking Skills can be put into two broad categories: cognitive and strategic/reflective.
A3.1. Core cognitive thinking skills
A3.2. Strategic/reflective thinking (includes different types of thinking, business understanding, problem solving and decision making, change management and innovation).
General number of skills in area: 82.
Area 4. Human
Human skills are broadly perceived as a combination of social, interpersonal, and leadership skills. These skills are increasingly important in business and relevant to all levels of management (lower, middle, and upper). Human skills differentiate a manager from a leader. Human skills involve the ability to work well with other people both individually and in group. Because managers deal directly with people, this skill is crucial. Managers with good human skills are able to get the best out of their people. They know how to communicate, motivate, lead, and inspire enthusiasm and trust.
A4.1 Building Collaborative Relationships
A4.2 Talent Management
A4.4 Influencing People and Communication
A4.5 Working autonomously
General number of skills in area: 117.
Soft skills continue to play an integral role in the labor market at all levels of the employee life cycle within an organization (at the stage of selection, training and development, movement, etc). Especially in the age of Artificial Intelligence they are crucial. AI will radically reorient the nature of all work. The emotional economy that emerges will be dependent on workers who have the skills to utilize their unique “human” talents. Moreover, those specific talents, broadly encompassed by the idea of soft skills, will become the most sought after abilities by employers over the next half decade. In fact, our economy is already tilting more toward a reliance on social and service skills.
At NaomiHire we have developed a special section in candidate’s profile and job profiles where both sides can find and choose needed soft skills easily. It is very important for labour market is to have a possibility to use a single and complete soft skills framework, to look for the best match in unified system of concepts. This will help to avoid misunderstandings in definitions and will help make the right decision.
- The Future of Jobs http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf
- The name of “key competences” was used by the European Parliament and Council in their December 2006 Recommendations to the Commission. The final document issued by the Commission, the European Framework for Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning, gathers 8 key competences, which are a mix of soft skills and basic skills such as numeracy and literacy.
- ESCO (European Skills, Competencies and Occupations Taxonomy) uses “transversal skills” as a synonym for soft skills.
- “The definition of soft skills”. Retrieved 5 December 2016. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/soft-skills
- Cedefop glossary http://euskillspanorama.cedefop.europa.eu/Glossary/
- Costin, G. Legitimate Subjective Observation and the Evaluation of SoftSkills in the Workplace, a Concurrent Session
Briefing Paper, Albury Convention, Centre and Performing Arts Centre, 2002.
- Overwhelming Majority of Companies Say Soft Skills Are Just as Important as Hard Skills. http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=4/10/2014&id=pr817&ed=12/31/2014
- HR’s Hard Challenge: When Employees Lack Soft Skills. https://www.shrm.org/publications/hrmagazine/editorialcontent/2016/0416/pages/0416-soft-skills.aspx#sthash.1doD0zqM.dpuf
- Why Soft Skills are Crucial in the Age of AI https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/hr-analytics/why-soft-skills-are-crucial-in-the-age-of-ai/#
- Personality Tests for the Hiring and Promotion of Employees SHRM Poll https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Pages/shrmpollpersonalitytestsforthehiringandpromotionofemployees.aspx
- Testing for Competence Rather Than for “Intelligence” https://www.therapiebreve.be/documents/mcclelland-1973.pdf
- Formative years in business : a long-term AT&T study of managerial lives https://searchworks.\direct.com/book/9780126906202/assessment-centers-and-managerial-performance
- The Practice of Competency Modeling https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227527571_The_Practice_of_Competency_Modeling
- Integrated Talent Management https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/Documents/Aberdeen%20Group.pdf
- Matthew Lipman’s Model Theory of the Community of Inquiry https://www.academia.edu/35478214/Matthew_Lipmans_Model_Theory_of_the_Community_of_Inquiry
- Bloom’s Taxonomy https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/
- de Bono Thinking Systems http://www.debonothinkingsystems.com/tools/
- Big Five Personality Traits & The 5-Factor Model Explained https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/big-five-personality-theory/
Keywords: soft skills, competencies, employee behavior, recruiting, HR, labour market, taxonomy.