Improving People Skills in Middle-Skilled Workers

Posted by Emma Rose Gallimore on November 21, 2019

When hiring, it’s easy to focus just on the technical skills. Find a Veterinary Technician who can take an X-ray or a contractor who can drive a skid steer and you’ve found a good candidate, right? Maybe not. A hyper focus on hard skills can mean you miss out on quality candidates and end up with employees who can’t collaborate, lead or communicate. Soft skills or people skills are vital to the success of your business. Looking for people skills in new hires and developing them in your existing workforce can make a big difference for productivity, profitability, and even retention.

There’s just one problem. New hires and even long-term employees may be lacking in some of these essential skills. In a survey of 500 senior executives, 44% said Americans lack soft skills like communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. Meanwhile, only 22% said they thought technical skills were lacking. The soft skills gap is a pervasive challenge that affects every industry and business. Among their top picks for industries affected by soft skills gaps were manufacturing (30%), healthcare (11%) and professional services (19%). While some employers wait for schools to change their curriculum to focus more on people skills, more proactive businesses, like Geisinger — a healthcare system based in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — are finding ways to upskill employees who are already on the job.

What are people skills?

Over the last few years, a debate has sprung up among those who hire and train talent. Some feel that the classic style of classifying skills as either “hard” or “soft” makes soft skills seem less vital than hard skills. They’ve begun to demand that the business community stop using the term soft skills. As a result, some new terminology is making the rounds in the business community. You might hear soft skills called people skills or human skills. Some have even suggested the term core skills to recognize the true importance of these competencies. Other phrases suggested by various thought leaders include communication skills, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills. Of these, the term people skills best encompasses what these skills are. People skills are what help you interact with, manage, and collaborate with other people. They’re the foundational skills that every employee needs no matter what their job is or where they fit into your organizational chart. For example, a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that 80% of employers named written communication skills as the skill they most want to see on resumes. Other examples include communication, critical thinking, teamwork, adaptability, and organization. In short, employers want employees who can work with other people.

Why are people skills so important?

Workers in all industries need soft skills, and highly technical industries are no exception. One study of software development job postings found that 64% of software tester posts asked for soft skills, with an average of about 5 soft skills on each listing. If you’re thinking about the future of your business, and not just about the immediate challenge of filling an open position, you quickly realize why soft skills are so important. Technology changes all the time. As a result, many hard skills come with an undisclosed expiration date. Meanwhile, people skills are useful across all industries and times. Until the day when robots really do take over our jobs (and we don’t believe they will) successful human interactions will remain the core of business. When we train workers in people skills, we help them contribute to the success of the business not just today, but for years and even decades to come. They work more effectively on teams, lead more successfully, and provide better customer service. This probably isn’t news to you. A LinkedIn survey found that 80% of executives recognize soft skills as increasingly important to company success. So why aren’t more businesses focused on soft skills? The answer is simple: soft skills aren’t always easy to teach or measure.

How other companies are improving people skills.

To make sure every employee has essential people skills, consider the Career Readiness Bootcamp, a self-paced, online training program aimed at elevating employee’s soft skills. Geisinger, a major employer in northeastern Pennsylvania, offers the program to proven members of their food services staff. HR professional, Kimberly Eiden notes that this career training is essential for retention. “Healthcare is 24/7—we don’t close for holidays or weekends,” she says. “Burn-out is real. But time and again, the number one reason people are leaving is because they don’t feel they have additional opportunities.”

This interactive, self-paced program is designed for career-chasers, but can build crucial skills in existing employees as well. Whether delivered completely online or in a blended learning environment, Penn Foster’s Career Readiness Bootcamp can improve outcomes by helping your employees build essential people skills. Geisinger’s Foodservice Department recently celebrated 60 individuals who completed the Penn Foster program. Skills built in the program have prepared them to thrive at Geisinger. The excitement was palpable as career starters and career extenders celebrated their commitment to developing the service skills that make Geisinger experience different. Companies across the nation are awakening to the fact that in a worker shortage spending the extra dollar on recruitment isn’t driving as much value as focusing on the people you have. Some colleges have gotten serious about soft skills by offering badges, a type of microcredential that shows the skills students have developed. Students can use these badges to show future employers their proficiency in a specific area. You can provide a similar experience for your employees through targeted skills training. Skills playlists are designed specifically to help middle-skills workers build foundational and workplace skills that meet the needs of your organization. Your employees can build proficiency in reading and written communication, business and technical writing, planning and organization, customer focus and more. Contact a Penn Foster Training Expert to find the solution that’s right for your workforce.