The Importance of Learning Hard and Soft Skills

Employers want people with the right mix of hard and soft skills.

Business leaders and hiring professionals have an old saying that sums up the proficiencies needed for employment: Hard skills will get you the interview; soft skills will get you the job. Indeed, both hard and soft skills play an equal role in employment.

As companies worldwide continue to shift to machine learning and artificial intelligence, work activities will look very different in the future. Hard and soft skills will still be necessary for employment, but they will be different from those required today.

At the same time, LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning study found that each generation of workers focuses on building different skills. The report also found that desired skills change over time—those necessary to workers at the beginning of their careers are much different than the skills the workers wanted 20 years later.

“Gen Z is most interested in building their creativity and tech skills more than any other generation. Millennials and Gen Xers are focused on developing their management and leadership skills, as many are becoming new managers or executives,” LinkedIn researchers said in the report. “Employees of all generations want to learn, but their interests vary.”

Professionals seeking career advancement are using in-demand MBA skills to identify the differences between hard skills and soft skills. At Washington State University, Online MBA degree students learn how to navigate hard and soft skills for greater professional opportunities.

Differences Between Hard and Soft Skills

When seeking new staff members, employers often want people who have a right mix of hard and soft skills. After scouring data from its more than 660 million professionals and 20 million jobs, LinkedIn Learning found the top 15 in-demand skills for 2020:

In-Demand Soft Skills

LinkedIn Learning defined soft skills as “essential interpersonal skills” that allow employees to do their jobs well and undertake new opportunities. In 2020, LinkedIn Learning identified these marketable soft skills:

  1. Creativity

Creativity allows employees to bring new ideas to the table across all business roles, from IT to marketing.

  1. Persuasion

Persuasive employees can communicate ideas and act as leaders throughout any task.

  1. Collaboration

Employers value teams that work well together over individuals who work better alone.

  1. Adaptability

Employees who embrace change with a positive and open-minded attitude, particularly in stressful situations, are more valued in the workplace.

  1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, or the ability to identify and respond to your emotions and those of others, aids in interacting with co-workers.

In-Demand Hard Skills

While LinkedIn Learning defined soft skills as interactions between colleagues, the organization identified hard skills as teachable and technical abilities. LinkedIn Learning found these to be the most sought-after hard skills:

  1. Blockchain

Storing and utilizing digital databases to secure cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin.

  1. Cloud computing

Designing, building, and delivering cloud systems.

  1. Analytical reasoning

Analyzing data and uncovering valid information for the best interests of a company.

  1. Artificial intelligence

Augmenting and supporting the workforce with IT innovations.

  1. UX design

Designing and building human-centric products that deliver specific results.

  1. Business analysis

Identifying, understanding, and analyzing business needs.

  1. Affiliate marketing

Targeted marketing by leveraging partnerships.

  1. Sales

Managing, understanding, and working with cross-functional sales teams at the highest level of business.

  1. Scientific computing

Developing machine-learning models through statistical and analytical approaches using advanced IT programming.

  1. Video production

Creating video content to fulfill the public’s need for information.

When seeking the ideal job candidate, employers look at a varying set of skills that demonstrate achievements. In the LinkedIn article, researchers said they found that companies today want employees with people-oriented soft skills and analytical and data-centered hard skills.

“While the most in-demand soft skills are all about how employees work together, the most in-demand hard skills are the ones defining what they’re working on,” researchers said. “These skills will continue to evolve as the world of work does and will vary based on industry and country.”

Other In-Demand Soft and Hard Skills

At the same time, researchers with the employment search engine Indeed identified hard skills and soft skills as technical abilities and workplace habits, respectively.

In addition to the hard skills recognized by LinkedIn Learning, Indeed identified these other leading proficiencies:

  • Bilingual or multilingual ability
  • Adobe software suite
  • Network security
  • SEO/SEM marketing
  • Statistical analysis
  • Mobile development
  • Storage systems and management
  • Programming languages (such as Perl, Python, Java, and Ruby)

Indeed also identified some of the leading soft skills as:

  • Integrity
  • Dependability
  • Open-mindedness
  • Critical thinking
  • Organization
  • Willingness to learn
  • Empathy

Learning Soft and Hard Skills

When interviewing potential employees, employers are not just trying to fill an empty seat. They want staff members who fit the company culture. While hard skills come as a result of education or technical training, soft skills come as a result of life experiences.

CEOWorld magazine said soft skills are important, especially for women in the C-suite. The author of “Why Does Soft Skills Training Matter for Women Leaders?” said many mistakenly assume soft skills are closely connected with gender. In fact, both genders need soft skills training.

“Both soft and hard skills are essential for organizations to achieve their goals and objectives. Given the choice between the two, it is soft skills that are more important than hard skills. It is easy to teach hard skills but tough to train soft skills to employees,” Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., wrote in CEOWorld. “Hence, if organizations find employees with soft skills, they must hold them and engage them effectively to improve the bottom lines.”

Rao said soft skills are acquired through observations, training, teaching, and practice. He identified tools to improve soft skills which can apply to any gender:

  • Be self-aware
  • Avoid forming opinions before having evidence
  • Adopt a mirroring technique to connect with other people
  • Use positive body language
  • Maintain eye contact and show authenticity
  • Empathize
  • Identify positive traits when speaking with someone to build chemistry during a conversation
  • Avoid interrupting someone when they’re speaking and share valuable information
  • Be assertive, tactful, and respectful when others are speaking
  • Be flexible
  • Use “always” and “never” sparingly in conversations
  • Oppose ideas, not individuals
  • Accept criticism respectfully
  • Praise publicly and criticize in private
  • Interact with people with varied personalities
  • Stay calm and composed during conversations. Exit arguments politely.
  • Be adaptable

Other experts as well have provided tips for developing soft skills. McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, said developing soft skills is particularly important because up to 375 million workers, or 14% of the global workforce, may need to switch occupations as technology and artificial intelligence advances. Upskilling and reskilling workers, including in soft skills, will be vital to the success of economies worldwide.

“Developing required soft skills and ensuring employees, and in turn organizations, are set up for success isn’t as simple as popping in a training video. Instead, companies must change their employees’ processes and behaviors—a much harder task,” McKinsey researchers said in “How to Develop Soft Skills.”

McKinsey researchers identified important methods to facilitate reskilling employees and implementing new soft skills:

  • Perform assessments

By determining an employee’s soft skills gap, employers can decide what is needed to strengthen skills.

  • Use blended learning

Utilizing digital courses, training, and peer coaching, among other techniques, facilitates understanding and learning.

  • Use incentives and rewards

Rewards and incentives encourage people to begin and follow through on soft-skills learning.

McKinsey researchers said soft skills training for current employees is not enough. Employers should also focus on new employees.

“Employers providing soft skills training report positive impacts on their workforce, including higher productivity and improved results. As today’s skill shift accelerates, it is essential that organizations enhance and expand development initiatives for business longevity,” researchers said.

Professionals who are working to build leadership abilities, including building and developing soft and hard skills, also utilize information learned in online MBA degree programs. At Washington State University, MBA students take coursework that helps develop C-suite expertise for the future of business.

About WSU’s Online Master of Business Administration Program

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business prepares graduates to become influential leaders in whatever business opportunities they pursue. The curriculum equips students with the strategies, knowledge, and skills used by high-profile business leaders and focuses on developing executive-level proficiencies.

For more information, visit WSU’s Online MBA website.


Recommended Reading
14 Time Management Strategies in the Workplace
The Perks of Online Education
Paying for an MBA Degree Program

2020 Workplace Learning: LinkedIn
The Top Skills Companies Need Most in 2020—And How to Learn Them: LinkedIn Learning
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Indeed
Why does Soft Skills Training Matter for Women Leaders?: CEOWorld Magazine
Retraining and reskilling workers in the age of automation: McKinsey Global Institute
How to Develop Soft Skills: McKinsey & Company