Technology May Be Advancing But Soft Skills are Still Key

Julie Shenkman
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Technology continues to make humans dependent on interconnected electronic devices to accomplish daily tasks. At the office, some employees cannot get through the day without a smartphone, tablet computer or wireless device. This electronic dependence has produced an entire generation of workers that may lack soft skills when it comes to basic human interaction.

Training Magazine calls this concept "human-to-human disconnect." Younger people who grew up with cellphones face a shortage of soft skills at work because they became really good at hard skills relating to technology. Ask a 25-year-old to zip through his iPhone screen or text a quick message to a client, and he is likely to perform the task admirably. Invite the same young person to intense contract negotiations at a face-to-face meeting and see what happens.

Human resources managers want young people who value soft skills over hard skills, according to a survey conducted by BusinessWeek in 2014. As many as 60 percent of managers evaluate employees based on how they interact with others as opposed to technical prowess. Only 32 percent of bosses evaluate employees based on how they handle technology at work.

One way to combat a lack of soft skills lies in how companies approach this technological age. Instead of refusing to hire highly motivated people who seem to lack some facets of personal interaction, firms can provide training to help make employees better people persons. Southwest Airlines invests in its Southwest University to ensure every employee knows that making customers happy is its top priority. Relevant classes, seminars and training modules at the start of an employee's career prevents a lack of panache later.

HR managers can be proactive about soft skills in the workplace. Monitor employees' performances by looking at how well they collaborate with each other on team-oriented projects. Change the company's mission statement, goals and work ethics to include steps for improving interpersonal communication. Executives and upper-level managers should lead by example and get out of the office occasionally to praise employees for working hard and doing a good job. Reinforce these tenets with some measure of rewards or advanced training later on in the process. If an employee maintains a great skill set for 90 days, offer a raise for being mindful of what was learned.

Intangible characteristics define how employees move through the office on a day-to-day basis. Employers look for confident, positive and adaptable employees who learn quickly and communicate. Some of these skills can be taught to new employees, whereas other people simply already have these skill sets. Potential employees who display intangible skills may be more likely to get hired on than those who show technical aptitudes.

Soft skills may be hard to determine, but HR managers can use their gut feelings and instincts to discover how well an employee uses interpersonal relationships to edify the office. Managers want people who enhance the feel of the office and not just those who can flip through 10 computer screens at once without batting an eyelash.


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