UK tech industry: hard times for soft skills

Soft skill intensive occupations will account for two thirds of all jobs by 2030. Pair this with fact that the UK tech sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the economy and you reach the conclusion that soft skills in technology are a big deal.

In previous years, talent acquisition was based largely around hard skills as a means of measuring a candidate’s ability and suitability for a role, but in recent times soft skills have become a much more important factor. With 98% of HR leaders stating the importance of soft skills for candidates looking to land a role in tech, it’s clear just how crucial these skills are in today’s market.

Mordy Golding, Director of content at LinkedIn says “while technical skills are really important, the largest skills gap is really around soft skills”. With the need for soft skills on the up, employers are finding it harder and harder to find suitable candidates. 67% of HR professionals admitted they’d withheld a job from a technically talented candidate due to a lack of soft skills, and according to a report by Jobsite, 40% of technology professionals lack fundamental soft skills including communication, team work and time management.

The struggles of a millennial

Although the importance of soft skills has become more recognised in recent years, it doesn’t mean younger generations have an advantage over their predecessors. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and it’s been reported that millennials are falling short when it comes to their soft skills.

As the first generation to be brought up surrounded by technology, it’s no surprise that individuals from this generation are excelling technically. But, behind the tech there’s a deeper issue of people growing up and learning to live life digitally, often leading to a lack of interpersonal skills. Jill Jacinto, a millennial career expert says “With the advent of technology, you’re on your phone, you’re behind a screen, so you haven’t had to create those personal connections as other generations have”, giving some explanation as to why millennials may be struggling.

According to KPMG, millennials already account for 35% of the UK workforce, and by 2020, they are set to represent 50% of the global workforce. Businesses need to find ways to address the challenges surrounding soft skills by introducing processes such as soft skill screening to ensure more clarity on candidate abilities.

Skill assessments are the way forward

In a recent report, 59% of companies said that soft skill assessments are their most useful interview technique. However, in the Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn, only 41% of companies declared that they have a formal process in place to assess soft skills.

There are a range of methods used to assess candidates including personality and situational testing which work by giving the candidate a scenario and asking how they’d respond. According to Footlocker, when they added a single soft skill test to their interview process, their new hires produced a double digit increase in sales; showing the huge impact soft skills can have on business.

Some companies are going above and beyond to develop screening assessments that ensure they have access to the top talent. Owiwi, a tech start up in Athens produced a game-based assessment platform that allows businesses to measure candidate soft skills through gaming. The businesses that have used Owiwi including Leaders Lab and TITAN have seen outstanding results including a 50% reduction in the duration of interviews, and a 47% drop in the number of interviews; demonstrating how innovative screening techniques can drastically improve talent acquisition.

Screening techniques are a useful tool for evaluating talent, but what can we do about the younger generations that aren’t already equipped with these skills?

Learning and development is key

According to a LinkedIn report, soft skill training was the number one priority for talent development last year. Implementing a learning and development scheme is one of the most effective ways businesses can ensure their employees are equipped with the right skills they need to be successful.

Here at ISL, we believe that investing in the development of our people is key to success. Oli, our specialist Learning and Development Manager offers tailored training sessions based on individual requirements.

“I’m passionate about helping people develop their soft skills because I understand how important they are. If you don’t have soft skills to support the delivery of hard, technical skills- your work won’t be as effective. Soft skills are at the centre of everything we do, and I think it’s really important that we invest in helping people advance to the best of their abilities. It not only benefits them personally, but the business too”.

However, developing an individual’s ability to work with peers or be more creative is arguably more challenging than teaching someone to use a new kind of software. Could developing technical skills be the way forward?

Cultural fit over technical skills

“If there was any specific tech skill people were motivated to learn, they could learn that very quickly”, says Mordy Golding. If you find a candidate who has the right blend of soft skills but lacks specific technical ability and experience, why not hire them? Technical skills can be taught. Finding candidates with the soft skills and personality that fits with your culture is much more beneficial for you in the long run.

What does the future look like?

As proven by Charles Riborg Mann back in 1918, success is 85% down to soft skills and 15% technical skills. If this is the case, businesses need to be prepared. Whether it’s through enhancing candidate assessment tools, developing existing soft skills in employees or prioritising soft skills over technical skills in talent acquisition- developments are going to be key to team and business success.

If you’re looking for more information on soft skills, check out our blogs on the value of soft skills and the top soft skills for tech success in 2019.

Information Technology