Creating Excellence Through People

Where Should Companies Focus Learning and Development Initiatives?

Technical skills are important when considering Learning and Development initiatives - but employers shouldn't overlook the soft skills.

We talk a lot about what skills employers are looking for, but what about the skills employers should train for? Many times, technical skills come to mind when we think of learning and development. As employers, we want and need our team members to develop technical skills to advance innovation and the success of the business. That’s a given. But what about training for “soft skills”? (I don’t like the term either, but it’s identifiable for the sake of the blog.) At the end of the day, these skills are the most challenging to find, yet the most essential for workplace success.

Last week I returned a call from my doctor’s office. It was a routine call that included a question for the doctor. The nurse who ended up being the communication liaison seemed less than thrilled to be the voice between me and the doctor. Her tone was flat and rushed. Perhaps, even slightly annoyed. While I’m sure playing phone tag with patients is not a highlight of her job, our conversation could have used a higher level of professionalism. Is this becoming the new normal? 

The National Association of College and Employers Job Outlook 2024 survey reported the following attributes that employers seek on a candidate’s resume. Yet, these are the skills that many employers claim are lacking in the workplace.

  • Problem-solving skills – 88.7%
  • Ability to work in a team – 78.9%
  • Communication skills (written) – 72.7%
  • Strong work ethic – 71.6%
  • Flexibility/Adaptability – 70.1%
  • Communication skills (verbal) – 67.5%

There is an air of prestige that comes with learning a new technical skill, so it is easier to access motivation in the learning process. Learning and applying increased competencies in our interpersonal and behavioral skills are much more personal and aren’t typically rewarded in the same way. In some cases, it could be perceived as highlighting what is lacking within us. This can come with a bit of a sting in comparison. Plus, there can be an underlying expectation or presumption that adults in the workplace should possess foundational communication skills, figure out how to get along with others and possess the ability to exercise basic self-awareness and self-regulation. Unfortunately, this is by far the case.

What can employers do to improve “soft skills” in the workplace while developing and retaining talent?

  • We don’t know what we don’t know, including about ourselves. This especially applies to employees with limited work experience. Helping employees increase their self-awareness can go a long way toward successfully practicing and learning new interpersonal and behavioral skills.
  • Design a mentoring program. Mentoring relationships can be a win-win for both participants. Seeing desired workplace attitudes and behaviors explained and modeled in real-time will connect the dots between concepts and expectations. Practice makes progress!
  • The pandemic was the icing on the cake in the downfall of workplace etiquette. Whether it is a struggle to dress appropriately for the return to the office or how to engage in conversation professionally, reviving this compilation of soft skills has become a challenge for many employers. Offer recurring workplace etiquette training and even make it an aspect of onboarding. We are living in a new world of work. Even the best of us could use an occasional reminder and acknowledge the changes that have come with this new landscape.

Incorporating “soft skills” into your L&D strategy can relieve common challenges on the job, from employee relations to performance. Hiring for learning orientation is also an essential element in the equation. It is a personal decision to possess the willingness to learn. It is also a personal decision to take accountability for how we show up at work. How we walk in the door every day impacts the level of competency we display in the skills and attributes listed above. This goes for those new to the workplace and those who have been around the block a time or two.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” ~ Maya Angelou

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Terri Cummings

As Owner & Senior Consultant at Level Up Solutions HRD LLC, Terri Cummings is an advocate of lifelong learning who fosters bridging the connection between personal and professional development. Through strategy and proactive development, her aim is to align students, members of the workforce, and employers with continuous growth and opportunity that achieves sustainable success.

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