Did you know that in the UK alone, over 500,000 people are expected to be significantly held back by their lack of “soft skills” by the year 2020? This means that half a million people will not have the soft skills required to do their job. In addition, the loss of productivity due to the soft skills deficit in the UK is anticipated to exceed £8 billion per year by 2020.

We are moving toward an increasingly service-based economy where human interaction, and therefore the mastery of soft skills, is essential to your company maximizing its bottom line. And yes, employers who solely focus on impressive certificates and top-notch technical skills among their workforces have become a very rare species. However, the above numbers show that the talent pool still has immense deficiencies in soft skills and suggests there is an urgent need to speed up its training and development.

So what are these soft skills?

Soft skills are the personal attributes that, for instance, enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. They are not very tangible and difficult to quantify. Whereas hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be easily defined, measured and tested in written exams.

To succeed in a profession, individuals need a wide variety of technical or hard skills. The lawyer, accountant, or engineer will not be successful without the necessary hard skills. Combined with excellent people skills, doors will open and much more value is generated for the company. The ability to communicate effectively, high emotional intelligence, and an impeccable work ethic are all crucial skills for personal and professional success.

Can soft skills be taught?

Soft skills are not some sort of ethereal qualities that individuals just somehow innately possess. They can, just like hard skills, be learned and mastered. Although kids today have more chance to practice soft skills throughout their formal education than in the past, educators rarely correct soft skills. My son regularly reports that kids’ presentations in school are extremely boring – they just read aloud from a paper without making eye contact, they speak too fast without putting any feeling into it, and the vast majority of teachers do not provide students with suggestions on how to improve their presentation style.

In this light, it’s not surprising that a recent US study found that “while the vast majority of employers thought that oral communication, organizing and evaluating information, and solving complex problems were critically important, fewer than 30% of college students realized that these soft skills are essential to their success.”

If teachers and professors never focus on developing soft skills such as presentation skills, the awareness of their importance is lacking.  

Train your soft skills

Soft skills can be developed, and they are often based on surprisingly simple principles. Simple, yes, but not always easy! It takes awareness, willingness, and persistence to adopt new habits, but it can be done. The good news is that most adults are very open to the acquisition of soft skills, especially because the positive human interaction that results not only boosts your career; it also improves relationships in private life.

Imagine the value of closing the soft skills gap in your company. A team with great soft skills is able to seal more deals, listen better to the customer, and avoid more internal conflicts. Closing the soft skills gap just might be the missing link in building the industry’s best workforce.