Identifying Soft Skills: Are Your Employees Trainable?

Your company has decided to migrate its digital properties to the cloud to take advantage of the cost savings, scalability, mobility, and other compelling benefits. Problem is, your organization lacks the expertise necessary to build out a cloud-based architecture and keep it secure. While such growing pains are typical for most businesses, your organization hadn’t factored in the cost of hiring new staff to help maintain and secure it all. 

One option is to post an ad for experienced cloud professionals, perhaps with globally recognized certifications. Such professionals are in high demand, so it won’t be easy (or cheap). It also takes a while to recruit, hire, and onboard your new hire. But what if your future cloud security expert, or any other cloud specialist you may need, already works for you?

More to the point, are your existing employees trainable and are you recruiting adaptable workers in the first place? 

Often overlooked in the relentless search for specific technical skills, employers are beginning to embrace the value of so-called “soft skills,” including emotional maturity and a growth mindset. These are difficult if not impossible to teach, although workers with these skills are generally better at solving problems, thinking critically, and adopting new technical skills quickly. 

Hard Skills vs. Soft skills

We know that “hard skills” include tangible capabilities such as the ability to write code, manage a company’s finances, or operate a given piece of machinery. These types of skills tend to be specific and are often validated by a degree or certificate. Since they’re easier to assess—either they have them or they don’t—employers sometimes default to a hard-skills-first strategy when recruiting for specific roles.

But what’s sometimes left out of the equation, or simply an afterthought, are those all-important soft skills. Difficult to assess from just a resume, employees with well-rounded soft skills are typically your highest performers. By prioritizing soft skills in your recruitment efforts, you’re more likely to hire for potential, adding highly adaptive (and trainable) professionals to your staff. 

Soft skills include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Adaptability / flexibility
  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Collaboration / teamwork
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Patience
  • Accountability

Of course, hard skills are still extremely important. You wouldn’t hire a butcher to bake bread just because they’re rich in soft skills. But by focusing on the traits listed above, while also finding candidates (or existing staff) who are on the right hard skills trajectory, you’re better able to build a talent pipeline and increase employee retention. Your most valuable employees will want opportunities for professional development, after all. 

How to Identify Soft Skills

Of the nearly one-half of new hires that fail within 18 months, on average, 11 percent failed because their hard skills fell short and 89 percent failed because they lacked soft skills, according to a Leadership IQ study. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to assessing soft skills, but there are techniques you can use to find candidates and spot existing employees who possess these elusive but absolutely vital traits. 

If you’re hiring new employees, then make sure you clearly state the types of soft skills you’re seeking in your posting. If you offer on-the-job training and professional development (and you should), mentioning this in your job ad will help you attract more candidates with the soft skills you’re seeking. For example: “We provide in-house training opportunities for forward-thinking, adaptive, and collaborative professionals who want to grow with our company.”

When it comes time for the interview, don’t simply ask what skills they possess and what they’ve done in the past. If you’ve seen their resume and done some research, you already know that. To determine whether they have the requisite soft skills you’re seeking, you need to ask behavioral questions. These types of questions get to the core of how someone has handled difficult situations in the past or how they might respond to hypothetical situations, such as a project not working out as intended. 

While you should tailor your questions to your company’s values and the particular role, consider the following examples:

  • Tell us about a time you had what you thought was a great idea that was shot down by your manager. How did this make you feel and how did you respond?
  • Think of a time when you were put in charge of a project that was completely new or foreign to you. How did you rise to the occasion?
  • Can you describe something that you did on the job that helped your company or even just one coworker, even though you weren’t openly acknowledged for your efforts?

Soft Skills and Trainability

Ideally, you already have employees with a solid range of soft skills. These are the ones most likely to take on new challenges, whether it’s stepping in to fulfill the duties of a departed coworker or being open to training and advancement to an entirely new role. In any event, it’s always a good idea to conduct what HR Technologist refers to as a “talent gap analysis.” Think of it as a skills audit, which you can then apply to your training and recruitment strategy.

Once you know what each employee needs in order to fulfill their role (within the larger context of what the organization needs), then you can take stock of which employees are most likely to excel through additional training. You know you need someone well-versed in cloud security, but instead of hiring someone new you may already have the perfect candidate for an online Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) training course

The reality is that digital transformation, and the rapid pace of change in the work environment generally, is placing an increasing premium on highly adaptable employees—even if some businesses have yet to catch on. Someone who’s great at what they do today may get left in the dust if they’re not amenable to change, and that’s not going to help your organization. Those who are most trainable, therefore, are professionals with those highly coveted soft skills.

Cultivate Trainability in Your Organization Today

If you’re hiring for hard skills only, you’re missing the boat. Your organization needs passionate, problem-solving, adaptable, curious, and ultimately trainable employees if you hope to come out on top. The world is changing fast. The best way to keep up and even get ahead of the curve is to cultivate a work culture that values professional development and taking on new roles. You already found great professionals with those premium soft skills. Do you really want to lose them? Keep them trained and engaged—learn about Simplilearn’s unique Blended Learning approach to upskilling in a wide variety of technologies and business practices today.

About the Author

Steve TannerSteve Tanner

Steve has worked as a reporter, editor, researcher, and web content writer for more than 20 years, covering law, business, technology, and finance. His career spans journalism, online content, and marketing. A lifelong learner, Steve enjoys reading and honing his skills as a cook and homebrewer.

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