The importance of soft skills training

Soft Skills, often associated with an individual’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others.

EQ impacts how individuals recognise and manage their behaviour in relation to their social environment and is considered as the foundation for a host of critical skills.

Soft skills are an important area of development in the workforce. While not as easy to identify as hard technical skills, soft skills enable a social, productive organisation, ultimately supporting both individual and organisational growth. Tarryn Mason, General Manager of Progression, looks at what defines soft skills, their importance within an organisation, and how your organisation can help to implement soft skills training.

The importance of soft skills in an organisation cannot be over-emphasised. Soft Skills are supporting skills; they support individuals in their job function, complementing their knowledge and experience (hard skills) by creating a platform to engage with people when doing that job. They encourage accountability and ultimately are what make an individual exceptional at their job.

Soft skills in the modern business landscape

The modern business is a people-driven, social landscape. Soft skills give individuals the opportunity to engage with the culture of the organisation. As a workforce grows and diversifies, it can no longer be taken for granted that people will fit in to their roles or fit in with their team. In fact, many challenges that surround creating an effective workforce lie with a leader’s ability to foster that sense of shared values amongst employees. On-going improvement in technology also means that activities which were previously done by people are now easily processed by a computer. Therefore it’s the charismatic, innovative individuals who relate well to others who are getting the jobs and keeping them.

The McKinsey 7-S Framework, developed in the early ‘80’s, speaks to organisational effectiveness and highlights the importance of soft skills in the workplace. The framework consists of 7 elements broken up into two categories: hard elements and soft elements. Systems, Strategy and Structure form the hard elements of the framework and are easily identifiable and influenced by management. Soft elements include Style, Staff, Skills and Shared Values. The intangible nature of these soft elements makes them less easy to identify and influence.

Although the framework is over 20 years old, it continues to influence and support management thinking, steering organisations toward investing in a workforce which is engaged, communicates clearly and shows creative potential.

Bringing Soft Skills into your organisation

In order to understand where soft skills fit within your organisation it is important to identify the gaps. This can be done at an individual and organisational level. Start with the company strategy and analyse where changes are required in order to achieve strategic growth in the workforce. This is also a good point to consider the individual’s career paths.

Consider an accountant who wants to become a financial manager. He or she may require certain experience and hard skills in order to qualify for the job, while as a manager he or she is responsible for managing and leading a team while meeting strategic /organisational objectives. In order to gain the necessary ‘soft’ skills for this role, the accountant might consider attending a management and leadership course where he/she will be able to learn about how to engage with employees, manage conflict in the workplace, performance manage individuals, offer recognition as a form of reward, encourage team participation and so on. These skills have very little to do with balancing accounts and creating budgets, but without them this accountant has little chance of being an effective Head of Department.

In this way we are able to understand how the soft skills landscape can help advance individuals between positions. This in turn results in organisational growth from within which supports an effective retention strategy.
Once a plan of action has been outlined regarding soft skills implementation can take place. Communication is very important to gain buy-in - the individuals who are being trained need to be invested in the process as they are ultimately going to bring their new soft skills to the work table. Outlining the intention behind the training is an excellent way to encourage full participation.

Although the benefits of soft skills are sometimes difficult to measure, it often helps if the training is linked to a company objective and directive. Categories F&G in the learning programme matrix (LPM) of the B-BBEE codes recognises informal, occupationally directed non-accredited training. Types of programmes that can be implemented include on-the-job training, EQ, Leadership & management training.

Progression offers a specialised programme which effectively develops soft skills within an organisation, teaching tools and techniques to effectively work in a team, take on new roles, and demonstrate initiative. For more information on our products and services please call 0860 754557 (SKILLS) or email candice@progression.co.za

By: Tarryn Mason, General Manager, Progression

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