So what exactly are soft skills, and how do they differ from hard skills?
Soft skills are the essential interpersonal skills you need to succeed in the workplace. Also known as transferable skills, people skills, personal attributes or employability skills, they include things like communication, teamwork, and problem solving.
Hard skills on the other hand are very specific and unique to your area of knowledge and expertise. For example, IT professionals might have hard skills in coding or networking while a digital marketer may be skilled in Google Analytics and email marketing.
There are a couple of key differences between hard and soft skills. Firstly, soft skills are transferable, meaning you can take them with you between different jobs and industries. While your data processing skills may not come in handy if you decide to switch from accounting to personal training, you'll already have experience communicating and developing relationships with clients that you can bring with you into your new career.
Soft skills are also much more difficult to teach than hard skills. With education now so widely available, it's never been easier to become competent in practically any area. But skills like creative thinking, problem solving and leadership often take more than a one-off course to fully develop. That means people who already have these skills are highly valued by employers.
The important thing to note with soft and hard skills is that neither of them will get you very far on their own. It’s the combination of both sets of skills – technical skills to get the job done and interpersonal skills that make you a great team member – that will make you a well-rounded and valued employee.
In this age of globalisation, digital disruption, and demographic change why is it that soft skills are so important? Many people fear that new technology, automation and AI will mean the end of their job or even industry. But while more routine tasks are being automated, what's still required is the problem solving and critical thinking skills to manage and analyse the work that's now being done by AI.
The rise of the machines is actually giving rise to a new era where humanistic traits and qualities are valued the same as, or even more than, technical skills and abilities.
It's because of trends like this that Deloitte Access Economics forecasts the number of jobs in soft-skill intensive occupations is expected to grow at 2.5 times the rate of jobs in other occupations. By 2030, it's anticipated that soft-skill intensive occupations will make up almost two thirds of the workforce.
But we don't have to wait until 2030, this change has already well and truly begun. In fact, 10 of the 16 ‘crucial proficiencies in the 21st century’ identified by the World Economic Forum are soft skills such as collaboration, initiative and adaptability.
The value of soft skills is even more pronounced when it comes to leadership positions. This is evidenced by a survey from MIT Sloan Management Review of 3,700 business leaders, which found soft skills were more important for determining the success of a leader than technical knowledge.
This research shows that those who value and invest in soft skills development throughout their career will be best placed to succeed in this new world order.
There are some soft skills, such as communication, that are highly valued across almost any occupation. But an analysis of data from online job site Workible by Deloitte discovered that the importance of other soft skills can vary from industry to industry.
Medical and health care
In a career where you often deal with people at their most vulnerable, it stands to reason that communication skills are highly valued. Self management, problem solving, critical thinking and digital skills are also important in this industry.
Creative media and arts
In an industry where creativity is a given, digital skills are the most sought after by employers, closely followed by communication, critical thinking, self management, and problem solving.
Marketing and communications
Unsurprisingly, communication is the number one valued skill for marketing and communications professionals, with digital skills, critical thinking, self management, and problem solving skills also in high demand.
Caring for children involves many skills, but those most valued by employers in the industry are strong ethics, self management, communication, problem solving, and critical thinking.
Mining and resources
This rapidly-evolving industry values communication and critical thinking skills over other soft skills, including problem solving, digital skills, and self management.
If you're looking to formalise or develop your soft skills then TAFE Queensland can help. We offer a wide range of micro-credentials, short courses, certificates and diplomas that can help you boost your resume and future proof your career.