Across all levels within a company, from the most junior employee to the CEO, continuing to develop hard and soft skills is important. It allows people to advance their expertise and hone attributes that are central to effective workplace performance. It can be challenging to balance the development of hard and soft skills within a company, yet it is vital to the health of the business and wellbeing of employees to provide the means to maintain and upgrade your employees’ skills and expertise – and to continually enable them to learn new things. 


What are hard and soft skills? 

  • Hard skills are “technical” skills that are taught and then executed to fulfill a specific role. While soft skills are transferrable among different fields, hard skills may only apply to a certain job or industry. Mastery of hard skills is easy to quantify.  
  • Soft skills are people skills – they are expressed through personal traits and behaviours that help employees to work with each other and thrive in the workplace. Thus, they are more complex to measure. While soft skills are the outworking of inherent personality traits, it has been proven that soft skills can be developed through learning and ongoing practice.  


How can we develop our employees’ hard and soft skills? 

Hard skills 

Learning a hard skill from scratch and mastering its basics is the key to being eligible for employment. Obviously, not all “technical” skills are suitable across every member of a team – particular roles require specific training. For example, a seasoned bookkeeper may initially have been taught the rules of accounting to properly write up every item of a company’s income and expenditure. When it comes to keeping up to date in the digital era, this bookkeeper will have been taught how to operate accounting software that automates their job. Their accounting expertise and working knowledge of relevant software are easy to assess.  

  • Improving and adding to hard skills is a process that enables a person to become better in their profession, adding to business success, and helping to advance their career. There are several different methods to utilise in the process of improving hard skills. The top three categories are: 
    •  Certifications: Certifications (whether in-person or by long distance learning) usually require a considerable time investment for part-time or full-time study – including time for reading extensively, attending classes and partaking in tutorials.  
    • Online courses: These are an efficient way for any professional to earn Continuing Professional Development points, update their knowledge or add new skills at their own pace at a convenient time.  
    • On-the-job training. This involves learning by doing, which can be an effective way to develop new skills. Employees can learn from their colleagues by observing and practicing new skills and receiving feedback on their performance.  
    • Cross-departmental training: Akin to on-the-job training, cross-departmental training involves providing employees with the opportunity to work in different departments within the organisation. This can help develop new skills and promote collaboration as employees from different departments build relationships.  


Soft skills 

Soft skills training is interactive and practical, allowing employees to learn about and improve their non-technical or interpersonal skills – as long as they are committed to making behavioural changes and remain open to constructive feedback.  

Soft skills can be developed through training, mentorship or coaching. For example, you may consider that a young job candidate shows evidence of being a “natural leader” when you read on their resume that they were captain of a university sports team. Together with the employee’s buy-in, their innate leadership skills can be consciously nurtured and grown over time as the person advances in their career to join a management team.  

  • It requires being mindful of other people and aware of one’s own behaviour to work at enhancing one’s soft skills – and it takes time. Here are 3 of the options for delivering soft skills development training to your employees: 
    •  Online learning: In today’s hybrid work culture, online learning is effective in that employees can take online soft skills courses while working from the office or home on any device – at a time that is most suitable for them. Because online courses give students full control over their own learning, students can work at their own speed. Learning at their own pace helps students focus on areas where they need more time and attention.  
    • Live interactive workshops: Live soft skills workshops work well to train an entire group of employees in a specific soft skill. The most effective workshops have a concrete, action-oriented purpose, with the aim of finding a solution to a current problem in the workplace. Employers can encourage active participation by using gamification, through creating interactive scenarios that mimic the kinds of situations your employees might face at work.  
    • Peer-to peer mentoring/Individual coaching: Coaching and mentoring are particularly effective in imparting soft skills such as communication and leadership. Peer-to-peer learning is knowledge sharing between employees. For example, a senior manager may mentor a junior manager or group of managers. And coaching takes place one-on-one with a professional coach. 


Why is skills development so important? 

Employee skills development requires ongoing and consistent time and effort. Overall, skilling up an organisation is not something that can be achieved overnight. However, improving employee skills significantly rewards those employers that make it a business focus. Here are 4 key benefits of investing in employee skills development:  

  1. Improved job performance: By providing employees with the essential skills and knowledge, they can better understand their responsibilities and contribute to the company’s success.  
  2. Increased employee satisfaction and retention: One impact of developing employee skills is that they become more confident in their ability to meet the demands of their work. In turn, this confidence can lead to greater engagement and motivation to succeed. 
  3. Enhanced innovation: Through gaining new knowledge and skills, employees are empowered to approach problems from a different perspective and contribute innovative ideas and solutions. 
  4. Improved company agility: In today’s rapidly changing world, businesses need to remain agile and able to adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities to ensure they stay ahead of their competitors. 


Skills development brings additional hard and soft benefits 

Consistent hard skills development among employees can help companies save money. By cross-skilling and upskilling employees, businesses can reduce the need to hire additional staff or outsource work. This can make the company more flexible and bring cost savings for the business in the long term. The link with saving money might seem to be tenuous, but as companies champion diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) in the workplace and make the effort to sow it into company culture, it becomes increasingly important to develop employee’s soft skills. Soft skills can create better harmony in the workplace, driving cooperation and collaboration among employees. This supports employee loyalty and retention, which can positively affect the company’s success in the long run.  

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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