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Hard versus soft skills: What’s more important for business success?

Managing Executive:
4 mins

There’s an old saying that has never been more relevant than it is today. Hard skills will get you the interview. Soft skills will get you the job. The reality is that both hard and soft skills are equally important, but as we move into an era that can no longer predict which skills will be the most important in years to come (or even which jobs will exist), it’s worth taking a closer look at soft skills, and why they are so important for individuals to cultivate and for businesses to focus on when hiring.


Skills are always evolving


Let’s begin with the simple fact that throughout an individual’s career, the skills they need shift and evolve. LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning study showcases this fact well. Currently, Gen Z is most interested in building their creativity and tech skills more than any other generation. This makes sense. Technology and the ability to innovate and create solutions for new (and old) problems will be the foundation for most jobs.

However, Millennials and Gen Xers are focused on developing their management and leadership skills, as many are becoming new managers or executives. Eventually, Gen Z’s priorities will also shift towards these skills as their careers develop.

There’s an added complexity today as well. Across the world, companies are investing in technologies powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence. If you have automated anything in your business, you are leveraging platforms and software that do this. The result is that work activities are already looking very different and they will continue to evolve. If an employee no longer needs to manually input data into a spreadsheet – or even analyse it themselves – for example, the hard skills that used to be important have become obsolete. This begs the question, are employees still necessary? What about degrees and courses that teach hard skills? Are they still important? Or will AI eventually do everything for us?

The short answer to both questions is, of course. Businesses are built on people. People need hard skills. But what they do within the business is always changing, and soft skills are playing an increasingly important role in those shifts. 


Customer centricity and soft skills


LinkedIn Learning analysed data from its more than 660 million professionals and 20 million jobs, to identify the top 15 most in-demand skills for 2020. The hard skills won’t come as a big surprise. These include blockchain, cloud computing, analytical reasoning, artificial intelligence, UX design, business analysis, affiliate marketing skills and sales. 

The in-demand soft skills are where things get interesting, however. LinkedIn Learning defines soft skills as “essential interpersonal skills” that allow employees to undertake new opportunities and do their jobs well. In a nutshell, these are the skills that give employees the ability to work well with each other and deliver exceptional customer service, which is the key differentiator for most businesses. 

Yes, sometimes a company will develop a product or solution that no one else has brought to market, but most of the time, it’s service that separates market leaders from their competitors. Customers expect personalised service that is specific to them – and it’s soft skills that allow employees to do just that.


Here’s LinkedIn Learning’s list:


Creativity: This is an essential skill that allows employees to bring new ideas to the business, whether they are in marketing or IT.  

Persuasion: Persuasive employees are able to communicate ideas and act as leaders to their peers, no matter what task they have undertaken.

Collaboration: Teams that work well together are more valuable than employees who work alone. The ability to collaborate with others – particularly across diverse teams – is paramount to the modern hybrid workplace. 

Adaptability: We’ve all seen how essential this trait is. The ability to accept and adapt to unexpected change with a positive and open-minded attitude, is an essential soft skill.

Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and respond to one’s own emotions and those of others, aids in interacting with co-workers and customers.

If we consider that hard skills will continue to evolve as the world of work does and will vary based on industry and country, and that, according to McKinsey research, up to 375 million workers, or 14% of the global workforce, may need to switch occupations in the coming years as technology and artificial intelligence advances, upskilling soft skills will be a key differentiator.

Over and above the importance of creativity, customer service and working well together, the ability to upskill and reskill workers comes down to soft skills. If job roles are shifting, adaptability is key – something we have all experienced since the global pandemic. 


Building soft skills in your organisation

So, what can you do?

Here are three ways your business can facilitate reskilling employees and implementing new soft skills:

  1. Perform assessments. Before you can strengthen skills, you will need to identify where there are soft skills gaps within your workforce.
  2. Use blended learning. By utilising digital courses, in-person training and peer coaching, you can build your team’s ability to share skills, experiences and collaborate more effectively. 
  3. Use incentives and rewards. Rewards and incentives encourage people to begin and follow through on soft-skills learning.

The great news is that hiring for soft skills and providing soft skills training will have a positive impact on your workforce, including higher productivity and improved results. As today’s skill shift accelerates, it is essential that businesses enhance and expand development initiatives for business longevity. Get in contact with Quest, the No1 in customized business staffing solutions in SA!

As leaders in workforce solutions, our insights by Adcorp are designed to help businesses grow through their most valuable resources: their people.

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