When it comes to planning employee training, HR managers often find themselves agonizing over which to prioritize: hard skills or soft skills? And even if that question has been settled, another still remains – which particular skills within each category are the most important for your team?
If you decide to train exclusively in hard skills, you’ll end up with technically capable professionals, but ones with weak social and management skills. On the other hand, what would you think of an administrative worker who, in addition to treating you badly, could not provide a solution to simple queries? A lack of training in soft skills can have numerous consequences for your company, such as loss of competitiveness and income, a low level of commitment, or general communication problems.
So, which of the two is more important? To help you answer this crucial question, we’ll be defining what soft and hard skills are, how exactly they differ, and finally sharing the pros and cons of each one.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are social and emotional interpersonal skills that relate to the personality traits of each individual worker. These skills allow professionals to work as a team, communicate and collaborate to achieve the wider objectives of a company, and maintain a good working environment.
Although they may at first seem less important than the hard skills which govern technical ability, soft skills are in fact currently considered more relevant, due to ongoing changes in the labor market.
Hard Skills vs Soft skills – How Exactly Do They Differ?
Today, when most people hear the words ‘job skills’, they automatically think of hard skills. Unlike soft skills, hard skills are technical skills that are required to carry out a task correctly – for example, language proficiency, data analysis, server maintenance, or graphic design. Although both types of skills are very important within the world of work, they are also very different:
|Differencies||Hard skills||Soft skills|
|Nature of skills||Specific technical skills||Social and emotional skills|
|How are they learnt?||Only formal apprenticeships||Learnt through experience|
|How are they measured?||Measured through objective tests and assessments||More difficult to measure, often subjective and dependent on context|
|Importance in work||Essential for performing specific technical tasks||Cross-cutting skills, essential for success in any job|
|Adaptability||Less adaptable to different situations and contexts||More adaptable to different situations and contexts|
|Specificity||Often dependent on the specific work being done||Applicable to a wide variety of jobs and contexts|
Examples of Hard Skills and Soft Skills
Now that you know what soft skills and hard skills are and how they differ, let’s consider which are the most important and relevant in the modern workplace. Here are some examples:
Examples of Soft Skills
As outlined above, soft skills are emotional and social skills. Examples include: effective communication; teamwork; problem-solving; leadership; adaptability; time management; empathy; creativity; critical thinking and decision-making. These skills may appear more ‘abstract’ than hard ones, but companies highly value them.
Examples of Hard Skills
Hard skills, on the other hand, are the technical skills necessary to carry out specific tasks. Examples include: programming; accounting; mathematics; statistics; market research; laws or regulations and digital marketing.
Each job, sector or company may require different skills, and some of these skills even combine both hard and soft qualities, such as data analysis, which requires both technical know-how and critical thinking. The most important thing is to identify and develop those that are relevant for each field of work.
#3 Scenarios Involving Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
When it comes to deciding whether to develop soft or hard skills in your team, it may help to consider the following scenarios:
In the first, we find ourselves in a company that only cares about the development of hard skills in its teams. Imagine an employee who knows a lot about computers, but doesn’t know how to explain to clients or other workers how to use them – and, to top it all off, he has no patience. Or how about a great designer who doesn’t respect deadlines because of poor time-management and improper planning? Do you attribute the problem here to over-reliance on hard skills or a lack of soft skills?
In this scenario, the whole work environment of the company could be negatively affected, due to possible conflicts arising between people who lack assertiveness, empathy or communication skills.
In the second scenario we turn to a company that gives priority to soft skills to the detriment of technical skills. In cases like these we might find, for example, salespeople who use slick interpersonal skills to hide their shortcomings and poor understanding of the product, client, or sector.
All of this could result in a perception that the company has technically incapable ‘charlatans’ for salespeople. Would you like to be in the hands of a doctor who, although very kind, doesn’t actually know how to handle a scalpel? Probably not, right?
The third scenario involves a company that decides not to train its staff in any type of skill. In these cases, as you might have guessed, employees will have all kinds of shortcomings in both hard and soft skills across the board.
The Perfect Scenario? A Balance Between Soft Skills and Hard Skills!
There is, of course, a fourth scenario, the most desirable by far – a balance between both types of skills. Even a project manager who has mastered all of his management tools will jeopardize a project if he doesn’t know how to motivate his collaborators, get them working together, and supervise them correctly.
Likewise, it’s no use for a salesperson to know their products and competitors inside out if they lack the sensitivity to approach customers with warmth, advocate for the product by personalizing its benefits, or close the sale at the correct moment.
As you can see, soft skills are just as important as hard skills and, what’s more, they enhance them. One type of skill without the other endangers the professional ‘completeness’ of any employee and therefore, the results they’re likely to achieve. For this reason, it’s important that you begin developing your team’s soft skills to balance the two – and ensure that all your workers achieve success.
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