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What Are Soft Skills, And Why You Need Them For Work

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

What are soft skills, and why you need them for work? Example of soft skills demonstrated by collaborating employees

John is a web developer for a small company. At work, he spends most of his time alone, developing and maintaining the company’s website. However, for the website and business to run smoothly, John needs to liaise with his colleagues on a regular basis to gain an understanding of any new requirements. He makes use of his analytical skills to evaluate different situations faced by the company and comes up with innovative solutions. By communicating his suggestions to the non-technical team using layman terms, John helps them understand the technical perspective. Eventually, the startup scales, and their team expands. John sharpens in his leadership skills so that he can take his newly formed tech team to greater heights.

In this scenario, John’s technical skills in web development played a key role in his job placement, but it was his soft skills that sets him apart from other web developers in the industry, and ultimately propelled him toward greater success.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are a collection of skills that are non-technical, adaptable, and relevant across various industries, operational domains, and positions. In other words, they are a set of competencies that are transferable across many industries that every employee should aim to have and develop. Soft skills are also sometimes called people skills, core competencies, interpersonal skills and sometimes even employability skills.

definition of soft skills against a background of employees demonstrating soft skills: core competencies that are transferable across jobs everyone should develop. synonyms are: employability skills, interpersonal skills, people skills and core competencies

Why should I develop my soft skills?

In summary, you should develop your soft skills because they are high in demand. Employers are increasingly aware of the importance of having a team of employees who have a good set of soft skills. For individuals, having a good set of soft skills for work paves the way for an easier job search and smoother career progression. For organizations, having a team of workers who are strong in their relevant core competencies will make work processes easier and clients or customers happier.

These days, even with remote work, it is hard to say that you do not need to have skills like communication to engage with your colleagues, as correspondences are still made through collaboration platforms and emails. In fact, skills like self-management, prioritization and etc. become more relevant for workers who do not work in an office environment.

While it is still tempting for some to argue that having a set of hard skills and technical knowledge in your respective field is sufficient to remain competitive at the workplace, the increasing importance placed on developing soft skills and the conversations surrounding upskilling core competencies proves otherwise.

In 2019, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) introduced the Critical Core Skills (CCS), a set of 16 soft skills that is believed to be able to help create a stronger workforce, increase business competitiveness, and support employment and employability in Singapore. Globally, McKinsey found that the proportion of companies addressing soft skills like empathy and emotional intelligence doubled in 2020. When speaking to Forbes on Why Soft Skills Are More In Demand Than Ever, Rohan Rajiv, Director of Product Management at LinkedIn, contends that rising trend of remote and autonomous work contributes to the increasing importance placed on foundational soft skills. This sentiment is echoed in Wiley’s Closing the Skills Gap 2023 marketing insights – post pandemic, they observed that the demand for soft skills rose for 48% of the organizations. Meanwhile, 33% of companies need fewer technical or hard skills.

However, despite the rise in demand, there remains a skills gap when it comes to these core competencies in the workforce. The Society of Human Resource Management published in the Global Skills Shortage report that 30% of organizations cite lack of soft skills as a reason that they struggle to find the right candidate. Soft skills are also not as quantifiable as hard skills are. For recruiters and hiring managers, they are not as easy to identify as a certification in a particular field. Soft skills require prolonged interaction to observe and fully evaluate. For job candidates and employees, soft skills can often be understood in theory, but in practice, they take time to develop and hone, and it takes time to build up a set of soft skills well suited to the environment.

What are the most important soft skills for work?

Now that we have established the importance of soft skills, which are the important competencies to develop, and what skills should you focus on? Which of these skills will help you excel in your career?

The answer is: It depends.

This is because every industry and position vary, and the level of competency for each skill differs for the respective roles. SSG offers a Skills Framework. This is a collection of resources that employers and employees can use as a guide to identify and evaluate the soft skills and competency level required in their respective industries and the various roles.

By performing a general search, you will find an extensive number of reports and survey findings which have listed their top soft skills in demand. The reports cite these skills in varying rankings and verbiage, but are consistent, nonetheless. Here are some in-demand skills that are deemed to be more universally required than others:

1. Effective Communication

Effective communication is almost always the first thing to come to mind when we think about soft skills. It is essential for conveying ideas, sharing information, and fostering relationships within the workplace. It is true that some positions will need this skill more than others as they are frequently engaging with others, but regardless, communication happens every time and we interact with another person.

Clear communication, both textual and spoken, both verbal and non-verbal (body language) helps prevent misunderstandings, enhances teamwork, and supports a positive work environment. This skill is highly transferable and desired because it's crucial in any setting, whether you're interacting with colleagues, clients, or even vendors.

2. Problem-solving

Problem-solving involves analyzing complex situations, identifying issues, and devising appropriate solutions. The ability to think critically and approach problems systematically is valuable across industries and roles. For the organization, problem solving skills from the staff will help the business grow and prevent loses. For individuals, it is important to have problem solving skills because it is what enables us to overcome challenges, enhance efficiency and all in all, make work easier.

3. Decision-making

Decision-making sounds like a core competency that is solely related to leadership positions. Yet, decision making is not about holding any role. It is a competency that helps individuals to navigate complexities and solve issues, but also make everyday choices. It is a skill that we use daily to make minor choices too, and these decisions may have a greater impact on our everyday work. When we choose to prioritize one task over another, we are making a decision that can also impact our overall well-being.

4. Adaptability

Adaptability refers to the amount of flexibility you have to adjust to changing circumstances. Being adaptable also connotes having situational awareness to react to changes at the onset and resilience against what might be completely unpredictable. Not only will adaptability help you as an employee stay relevant and up to date in the workplace, but today’s employers are recognizing a greater need for employees to be able to navigate change and uncertainty.

When the world went into lockdown, changes had to be made at work almost immediately. On an operational level, having a team struggling to react will cause work processes to be delayed or even cease. A worker who is unable to adapt to the new situation would have faced great distress. Therefore, the ability to adapt to new situations is important.

5. Learning agility

How fast can you pick up a new skill effectively? In today's fast-paced work environment, where technologies and methodologies are rapidly evolving, being able to learn efficiently is vital. It is a skill that is transferable and a skill that helps you be transferable. For people who have learning agility, work related transfers are not something to be afraid of but an exciting opportunity. The transfer can be to a different department, a promotion, or an opportunity to change teams and gain understanding of a different job function. It allows you to transit smoothly from one process to another, and when the situation calls for it, one role to another. People who have learning agility are very versatile!

6. Creative thinking

Creative thinking involves generating innovative ideas. However, it does not only apply to the more artistic or the more “outwardly creative” of jobs such as marketing and design related roles. This competency is also valuable in analytical contexts and needed for all kinds of businesses. It is a creative mind that allows an employee to come up with solutions that may not be immediately obvious.

Think about all the start-ups you have come across. Most of them are not in the creative field, however, the successful ones introduce novel and innovation solutions to problems. Sometimes, issues need some trial and error before they are resolved. Aside from having a good set of technical skills and knowledge in the industry, creativity enables workers to come up with multiple solutions and eventually solve the problem.

7. Collaboration

Collaboration involves working effectively with others to achieve common goals. Teamwork is integral to most workplaces and relevant to most work settings – from within the team to cross team projects. It encourages diverse perspectives, enhances problem-solving, and promotes innovation.

As agile teams and cross functional teams become more and more popular ways for organizations to work and operate, having good collaboration skills makes for a great and competent team player, and a great employee.

It may seem daunting to know employers are expecting you to acquire soft skills on top on learning the technical skills and honing your trade expertise. However, self-improvement is part and parcel of career development. Just like not every accountant has an affinity for numbers from birth, not everyone is born the needed soft skills for their job, and yet, all these can be trained and learned. At the workplace, putting in conscious effort to take in feedback and observe how you interact, think and stay up to date will bring you vast improvement. If you do not know where to start, the internet offers a wealth of articles, podcasts, and videos for you to peruse. There are also training courses for soft skills approved by SSG, and LinkedIn offers online courses for soft skills as well. So, practice learning agility and begin working on upskilling yourself today!

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