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Those with top notch ‘soft’ skills will drive future workforce

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 8, 2013 10:50PM



Northwest Indiana for many years has been the bastion of hard skills. From its agriculture roots of driving horses to plow the fields to the manual labor involved in producing steel, hard skills were essential to the business growth.

The economy has changed with technology doing much of those hard skills of years gone by. This next generation workforce requires more people skills or “soft” skills than ever before. Unfortunately, those skills are lacking not only here in Northwest Indiana, but throughout the country.

An employer survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities earlier this year discovered that 93 percent of the employers agreed the demonstration of soft skills was more important than their undergraduate major or degree.

Soft skills go beyond communication and team collaboration. These skills now include innovation, self-leadership and strategy. No longer will an advanced degree ensure a potential candidate a job as it may have done in the past. Credentials are becoming secondary to personal productivity.

This paradigm shift creates a new challenge within the mid-size and small businesses. In the past and even today, many in business viewed soft skills as profit-draining because hard skills were perceived as what made the money. Additionally, the traditional revenue business growth model placed people behind dollars even though people were the real profit centers.

How do we change this perception? Possibly some of the answer to this question begins by separating training from development. Training is learning a skill such as answering a phone. Development is enhancing that skill and taking it to the next level.

Another simple strategy is to include a proven goal setting and goal achievement process within all employee training and development. Ideally if consistent goal achievement became part of the K-12 educational curriculum this inclusion might further the productivity efforts of businesses. Some organizational development consultants even advocate bringing emotional intelligence into the K-12 curriculum.

Finally, a more dramatic and forward thinking action would be to create the role of Chief People Officer. With operations, finance, technology, social media, marketing, capital and procurement all having a seat at the C Suite, the exclusion of people simply does not make logical or good business sense. This exclusion devalues the motivation of the employees because everything else has greater value than their own contributions.

In the 21st century of talent management, soft skills will be more in demand and will generate more hard cash to the bottom line than those hard skills have ever contributed. If you disagree, just remember the last time you were on hold for 15 minutes waiting for that customer service person.

P.S. Shout: Hobart Electronics of Hobart and Task Force Tips of Valparaiso are second generation small businesses within the manufacturing industry of Northwest Indiana.



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