As if adapting to the new normal of work-from-home due to Covid wasn’t already enough, employers are facing yet another challenge.  Now they’re finding that most applicants lack the critical soft skills that are crucial for success.

Soft skills used to be considered nice-to-haves but now, they’re critical must-haves.  They’re the ‘grease’ that facilitates interpersonal interactions and are what people with hard skills use to succeed.

Soft skills are things like critical thinking, flexibility, adaptability, team working, problem solving, time management, communication, attention to detail, dependability, emotional intelligence and etc.  They are equally as, if not more important than, hard skills.

Finding applicants with hard skills like accounting or typing ability, proficiency in MS Word or for things like welding and HVAC isn’t usually all that difficult.  However, times have changed.  A recent Harris Poll found that 59 per cent of Canadian businesses can’t find qualified employees and a third of those complain that it’s because prospective hires don’t have soft skills.[i]

Unfortunately, these are not skills that are taught in schools or universities.  A 2020 Gallup Poll found that 91% of employers “agree that to achieve success at their companies, a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex programs is more important than his or her undergraduate major.” [ii]

No one cares about your engineering or financial skill if you’re hard to get along with, can’t manage your time, routinely show up late, and speak condescendingly to everyone who you work with.  Highly skilled people who have lousy soft skills can get fired too.

Recent studies reveal just how big a problem this has become and how it’s getting worse.  In 2017, Deloitte Access Economics[iii] also reported that “soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030” and that hiring employees with more soft skills could increase revenue by more than $90,000.[iv]  Another recent report from RBC Economics[v] found that between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, employer job posting requirements changed as follows:

  • Critical thinking – up 37%
  • Flexibility – up 20%
  • Teamwork – up 18%
  • Ability to learn – up 15%
  • Continuous improvement – up 12%
  • Problem solving – up 9%
  • Strategic thinking – up 8%

Three Canadian sectors demanding more creativity amongst new hires include: healthcare, education, and sales and service.

  • Healthcare job postings that demand creative skills are up 125%.
  • Education job postings requiring creative skills spiked by 50% in September 2020 and again by 30% in January 2021.
  • Sales & Service job postings explicitly seeking creativity in sales and service increased by 14% in April 2020 and 20% in January 2021.

The writing has been on the wall for several years now.  A West Monroe Partners research report from 2018 found that 98% of HR leaders said that soft skills were important for candidates looking to land a technology job, and 67% said they had withheld a job offer from a skilled tech candidate because of a lack of soft skills.[vi]

GoSkills, an online learning platform that helps people learn business skills, identified the top three hard skills that are most lacking in applicants, and the top five most lacking soft skills.[vii]  They are as follows:

Top 3 most lacking hard skills:

  1. Writing Proficiency
  2. Public Speaking
  3. Data Analysis

Top 5 most lacking soft skills:

  1. Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  2. Attention To Detail
  3. Communication
  4. Leadership
  5. Teamwork

Note that these are not just piddly little studies of a few thousand respondents either.  LinkedIn data from more than 600 million professionals and 20 million jobs revealed that creativity was the skill most in demand in 2019 and 2020.[viii]

Now that we’ve identified the problem, what’s the solution?  What are employers supposed to actually do about it?  The answer is:

Test – Your – Applicants!

Contrary to popular belief, soft skills can be measured accurately, reliably, and inexpensively.  There are hundreds of tools available to employers which are designed to target every one of the competencies listed above.  The problem is that most employers aren’t aware of them and even fewer take advantage of them.

It should be clear by now that resumes, references and interviews are not enough and only an accurate, valid and reliable assessment tool will be able to tell you if an applicant can think critically, communicate effectively, pay attention to detail, behave with integrity, or has a willingness to learn.  If soft skills are requirements that your employees must have, then test your applicants to ensure that they have what you’re looking for.

With the range and caliber of assessments available today, there’s really no reason to be hiring people who don’t have the skills that you need.

Here are just some of the assessments that can help you get a read on the quality of your applicants’ soft skills:

Analytical Skills

  • The Analytical Reasoning Test assesses inductive and deductive reasoning skills, verbal and quantitative reasoning skills for roles where logic and reasoning skills are paramount in business decision-making.
  • The Employee Attitude and Personality Test is an over­arching assessment of a person’s work personality profile, including trainability, initiative, abrasiveness, analytical thinking, emotional stability and more.
  • Use the Workplace Personality Inventory II to assess work-related personality traits including Analytical Thinking and other soft skills, shown to be important to job success in a wide range of occupations.

Attention To Detail

  • The SkillSeries™ tests assess: Attention To Detail as well as, Analyzing, Assembly, Filing, Grammar, Inspection, Logic & Reasoning, Math, Proofreading, Reading Comprehension, Spelling and Vocabulary Skills Tests for general pre-screening.
  • Use the Detail Orientation Test to identify candidates with patience, focus and meticulousness skills for a variety of roles in your organization.
  • The Classifying And Coding assessment tests attention to detail and the ability of professionals, front-line supervisors and managers to classify and code items by categories.

Communication

  • Use the Business Communication – Adaptive to screen applicants for their ability to communicate effectively with co-workers and at all levels and with external business contacts.
  • The Business Communications screens for the ability to effectively communicate in writing focusing in the following five areas of business writing – Basic Grammar, Business Tone, Responding with Incomplete Information, Appropriate and Inappropriate Apologies, Responding with Incorrect Information.
  • Use the Communication Effectiveness Profile development tool to collect feedback on communication competencies like communication skills, clarifying, understanding, non-verbal clues, feedback, empathizing, and receiving the message for both individuals and groups.
  • Use the Communication Skills Assessment to assess your candidates or employees for effective listening and communication skills.

Creativity

Critical Thinking

  • The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal® III measures critical thinking ability and decision making in high-potential professionals, new managers, and future leaders.
  • The Logic IQ Test is designed to test logic and mathematical IQ. It will assess a person’s ability to logically discern numerical patterns and to apply them to new contexts, to complete numerical computations, and to solve geometrical, mathematical and logic word problems.

Dependability

  • Use the Applicant Risk Profiler as a general pre-screener that assesses theft, drug use, compliance, absenteeism and aggressive behaviour.
  • The Employee Dependability Profile identifies applicants who will be dependable, reliable and stable employees who are reliable and can be trusted, those who think work is important and are committed to doing their best, and those who show initiative and are willing to do more than they are asked.
  • Use the Employee Screening Questionnaire to identify applicants who will be dependable, reliable and stable employees.

Leadership

  • The Leadership Potential Assessment will determine whether a person possesses the personality traits that characterize good leaders, and evaluates the type of techniques he or she would utilize if given a leadership position.
  • Use the Leadership Skills Profile for all your selection, development, succession planning, coaching, counseling and training needs.
  • Use the Manager Solution test for candidates applying to entry-level leadership positions who tend to supervise salaried employees.

Problem Solving

  • The My Thinking Styles test is a personal/professional development tool designed to evaluate thinking styles and how an individual tends to approach situations and make decisions.
  • The Making Decisions test is a self-assessment and workbook that explores how you behave when you make decisions by yourself and with others.
  • The Negotiating Style Profile helps individuals to develop their collaborative negotiating styles through thought, preparation, and skill practice.
  • Use the Dealing With Conflict instrument to identify conflict solving approaches and solve interpersonal and team friction problems.

Strategic Planning

  • Use the Change Management to test for knowledge of large-scale change in organizations and skills like analysis, management, and planning.
  • Use the Business Process Reengineering test to screen candidates for successful implementation of business processes skills and a vast array of related skills.
  • The Executive Solution helps assess planning, directing, coordinating, formulating policies and overall management skills of senior executives.

Teamwork

Willingness To Learn

  • Use the Wonderlic Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test to assess an individual’s ability to learn, adapt, solve problems, and understand instructions. It is a valid predictor of future job performance, and may be used for positions ranging from routine to complex.
  • Use the General Laborer Test to screen applicants for hard working people for setup, stocking, assembly and general labor positions.
  • Use the Coaching & Trainability Attitude Assessment to measure an individual’s coachability, willingness to learn, accept feedback, and criticism, for a variety of roles.

If all else fails, there’s always the Soft Skills Inventory that helps individuals assess their soft skills and provides them with strategies to enhance their workplace professionalism such as goals, communication, professionalism, ethics and leadership.

Whether you’re hiring entry level, middle management or senior employees or developing existing employees for future succession, there’s an assessment available that will help you narrow down your choices, make better, more informed decisions and improve the quality of the outcomes you’re vying for.

 

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David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us.  Please send comments about this article to dtowler@creativeorgdesign.com.

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Endnotes

[i] Canadian businesses say they can’t find employees because applicants are lacking these crucial skills – https://financialpost.com/executive/executive-summary/posthaste-canadian-businesses-say-they-cant-find-employees-because-applicants-are-lacking-these-crucial-skills

[ii] Newsflash: Soft Skills No Longer Enhance Your Candidacy For A New Job – https://www.forbes.com/sites/dawngraham/2020/08/15/newsflash-soft-skills-no-longer-enhance-your-candidacy-for-a-new-job/?sh=decd5f2c5618

[iii] Soft skills for business success – DeakinCo – https://www.deakinco.com/uploads/Whitepaper/deloitte-au-economics-deakin-soft-skills-business-success-170517.pdf

[iv] Soft Skills Are Essential To The Future Of Work – Forbes Human Resources Councilhttps://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2021/01/20/soft-skills-are-essential-to-the-future-of-work/?sh=6651b6621341

[v] The Coming Creativity Boom: How human ingenuity will power the 2020s – https://thoughtleadership.rbc.com/the-coming-creativity-boom-how-human-ingenuity-will-power-the-2020s/

[vi] Lack of soft skills holding IT pros back from getting hired, promoted – https://www.techrepublic.com/article/lack-of-soft-skills-holding-it-pros-back-from-getting-hired-promoted/

[vii] The Skills Gap is Real: 8 Skills You Didn’t Know You Needed – https://www.goskills.com/Soft-Skills/Resources/Skills-gap

[viii] The Coming Creativity Boom: How human ingenuity will power the 2020s – https://thoughtleadership.rbc.com/the-coming-creativity-boom-how-human-ingenuity-will-power-the-2020s/