A new study by The Australian Institute of Management (AIM) has identified soft skills as essential in the Australian workforce, yet businesses are failing to invest in their own employees.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the personal attributes, personality traits and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills define how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others.

Unlike hard skills that are learned, soft skills allow people to “read” others. These are much harder to learn, at least in a traditional classroom. They are also much harder to measure and evaluate.

Soft skills include attitude, communication, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork, networking, decision making, positivity, time management, motivation, flexibility, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution.

Why are soft skills important?

The AIM Soft Skills Survey 2019 found nine out of ten Australian leaders perceive soft skills as critical when hiring new talent, and 80.5 per cent of Australian business leaders believe soft skill development is very or extremely important.

However, the survey also highlights that despite 51.9 per cent of Australian businesses allocating more than $1,000 per employee on a total L&D budget, in 2019 it is predicted that 43.6 per cent will invest less than $500 per employee in soft skills training.

CEO of AIM, Ben Foote, told HRD the results highlight that Australian leaders understand the need for soft skills, yet many are not willing to invest in their own employees to help further their soft skills.

Which soft skills are the most important?

The AIM survey listed the following top three soft skills.

Soft skill #1 — Communication

Communication is the most sought-after soft skill among survey respondents, with 81 per cent rating it as the most important skill they look for when searching for new talent.

Two thirds of the respondents said they were likely to be offering communication training in 2019.

“Organisational structures are becoming more fluid, with team and project-based work becoming the new norm, thus communication is essential for ensuring these dynamic working arrangements are successful,” states AIMS report.

“Regardless of function or department, every employee needs communication skills to work with an increasingly diverse range of colleagues outside of their immediate team,” it adds.

Soft skill #2 — Leadership

More than 50 per cent of all respondents say they view leadership ability as either very important or crucial when looking for new talent.

In terms of training plans, leadership skills were top of the agenda with 77.4 per cent of businesses likely to be offering training in this area.

While there is a tendency to view leadership as a position, that perception is changing as many experts believe that every individual has the potential to lead in some way.

As organisations seek to create leaner, flatter, and more agile organisational structures, leadership skills will be vital for helping organisations to quickly adapt their business models and uncover new opportunities.

In this new context, leaders will be seen as the problem solvers and chief collaborators for their teams.

Soft skill #3 — Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is fast increasing in popularity across the business world. While more than half of survey respondents rating EI as an essential skill for their company, only 44.2 per cent of businesses say they are likely to offer training this area.

Emotional intelligence encapsulates a broad set of skills that enables us to better perceive, understand and manage our emotions as well as other people’s emotions. By developing these skills, people can respond to their emotions in an intelligent way, and use them to achieve better results for their business.

Higher emotional intelligence enables people to communicate better, encourage team effort, and solve problems more effectively.

“In the age of digital disruption, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the technical skills learnt one day can be obsolete the next,” said Mr Foote.

“To create an innovative and agile workforce, leaders need to be better equipped to identify the necessary soft skills needed so they know where the investment in training should be made,” said Foote.

Foote added that every employee in the organisation need to increase their soft skills to keep the business competitive.

“All employees at every level, will need to learn complex problem solving, people management, collaboration and resilience to navigate the constantly changing business world.”

 

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