Spoiler Alert: They’re Both Valuable
Everyone wants skilled employees, but achieving that goal goes beyond hiring top talent. Employee skills need to be continually updated and honed to keep up with job requirements. That’s where employee development comes in. You know it’s in your best interest to help people grow and advance their skillsets. And you know there are two types of skills to focus on: soft skills and hard skills. But which is more important?
When it comes to helpful upskilling and employee development, you need a mix of both. In this article, we’ll talk about the difference between soft skills and hard skills and share when and how to include each in your training strategy.
First, let’s get a more complete definition of each skillset.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills get a lot of buzz these days. These are the aptitudes that impact how people work together. Common soft skills include:
Why Soft Skills Training Is Important
The reason you’re hearing so much about soft skills in the workplace is that they are crucial to building a team that’s innovative and productive. Employees with strong soft skills make work better for their co-workers and those who report to them. They tend to be good at:
- Building and maintaining relationships with both co-workers and customers
- Being organized and getting work done on time
- Providing strong leadership
- Solving problems and innovating new solutions
As the working landscape continues to evolve, you want people who can keep up with change and thrive.
Abilities like organizing, problem-solving, and getting along with others make your employees more adaptable.
In addition, these abilities build stronger teams and help employees feel more confident in their work. And when your employees are happy, you see the results in increased productivity and better retention.
What Are Hard Skills?
Hard skills are what we traditionally think of when we talk about employee training. Every job requires technical or practical know-how attached to specific tasks. Educating people in these is pretty straightforward.
Common hard skills include:
- Sales skills
- Customer service skills
- Technical operations
- Programming languages
- Safety and compliance
Why Hard Skills Training Is Important
It’s a little more obvious how hard skills training benefits your organization. Most jobs require specific skillsets. If people can’t do their jobs, your business won’t move forward and it will be impossible to grow.
For instance, customer service agents need to know how to navigate your customer management system. Sales reps may need strong presentation skills. Your marketing team needs to know the ins and outs of digital marketing to keep your campaigns relevant and get them in front of the right people.
Add to these reasons the fact that technology and processes are continually evolving. Providing training in hard skills keeps employees up to date with the best practices and technical abilities they’ll need to perform their best.
Soft Skills Vs. Hard Skills: Which Do You Need?
Clearly, both soft and hard skills matter to your company’s success. But when and how you include them in your training strategy may vary depending on your needs.
When To Prioritize Soft Skills Vs. Hard Skills
You should offer employees a mix of both types of skills training. But depending on your goals, there may be times to prioritize one over the other.
Prioritize soft skills when you want to:
- Build A Healthier Work Environment
Teamwork and communication skills will help foster inclusivity and make it easier for employees to share their needs. Personal productivity skills like prioritizing and time management will also help reduce stress and build confidence.
- Develop Leadership Qualities
Teach communication and management skills to existing leaders to improve current team management. Or use leadership skills training to prepare employees to move forward in their career paths.
- Strengthen Teamwork
Make your teams more efficient and effective with communication (both written and verbal) and teamwork skills training.
- Overcome Process Concerns
Soft skills can help you eliminate obstacles to productivity by addressing things like missed deadlines, errors due to poor communication, or mishandling of customer interactions.
Prioritize hard skills when you want to:
- Keep Up With Industry Changes
Get employees up to speed with new processes and technology. Prepare them for new roles as your business expands and incorporates new types of work.
- Upskill Employees For Their Current And Future Roles
Optimize employee skills for the jobs they have and prepare them to step into new roles when they’re ready to advance.
- Increase Team Collaboration
Sometimes the only real barrier to cohesive teamwork is a lack of understanding of what others actually do. Consider “horizontal” training to expand employees’ understanding and make it easier to work with co-workers in different roles, or even with other teams or departments.
Building A Holistic Employee Training Program
To build a well-balanced workforce, you’ll want to incorporate both skills into your L&D programs. But when and how you include them in your employee training strategy may vary depending on your needs.
While it’s easier to see how hard skills lend themselves to formal training, both can be part of your training strategy and rolled out through your LMS. There are some differences in how you might present training, though.
Training For Hard Skills
Hard skills are generally easy to train with typical teaching models: instruction, practice, and evaluation through tests or quizzes to make sure learners get it. These approaches can be especially useful:
- Self-Paced Learning
Rolling out an effective course in your LMS will make it easy for employees to learn on their own time and at their own pace.
- On-The-Job Practice
One of the best ways to get good at essential skills is to put them into practice right away. Provide consistent reminders of the skills once people are back on the job so they remember to use them. Send emails or put up signs outlining processes or encouraging new practices.
Since hard skills are specific and consistent for every person, many have formal training programs that offer a certificate as a guarantee of skill acquisition. Think about adding certification courses to your training lineup to ensure skill development. A formal certificate can also be a good motivation for learners to complete a given program.
Training For Soft Skills
Soft skills training can require a slightly different approach. Instruction and practice are still important, but these skills benefit from more interaction and experiential learning. Consider the following approaches:
- Hands-On Workshops
The best way for people to learn soft skills is through hands-on experience. Set up role-playing scenarios for them to work through in an environment that makes it safe to try out the new skills.
- Group Learning
Soft skills are largely interpersonal, so self-paced learning alone won’t always be the most effective approach. Provide more opportunities for peer interaction to help learners grasp the nuances of the skills and boost their enjoyment of learning. Add discussion groups to start conversations and encourage deep reflection on the skills. Use group projects to get people interacting and learning from one another.
- On-The-Job Coaching
Many of these kinds of skills are learned through more informal training methods. Assign learners coaches who are experienced in the skills that can help mentor them and demonstrate the skills throughout the workday.
How To Measure Training ROI
Hard skills can be easier to define and measure. It’s simple to see whether and when someone can complete relevant tasks. You can measure skills through tests and quizzes during training. You can also gauge improvement in hard skills by looking at company KPIs. Your training should help you reach company goals, so improvement in the goals you set will show that skill levels are on target.
Soft skills can be more nuanced to track, so your measurement processes will be, too. Since soft skills are meant to improve interpersonal work and affect both employee engagement and productivity, you can start by measuring those.
Survey employees on their experiences. Are people engaging with the training? Do they report feeling engaged and satisfied with their work? You can also track things like productivity rates and employee turnover to see if training is leading to improvement in either.
In both cases, you can get a sense of skill level by asking for feedback from those who work closely with learners. Run 360 surveys with leaders and co-workers to see if and how skills learned in the training are being applied back on the job.
Tailor Your Training To Your Needs
Knowing which skills to offer when is important for making your workforce effective and efficient. Get to know your company’s needs by running skills gap analyses and conducting effective performance reviews. These will give you insights into which skills (whether hard or soft) you need to focus on.
As you pay attention to your needs and track employee progress, you’ll help your teams reach their highest potential. And when your employees succeed, so do you.