The soft skills that enterprises desperately need


By definition, disruption is an inherent component of digital transformation. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, automation, mobile devices, and other technologies have dramatically impacted how organizations do business and how employees do their jobs.

For many organizations, however, digital transformation efforts are being undermined by a widening talent shortage and skills gap. In a study on the global skills shortage, the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) writes:

The United States is facing a growing skills gap that threatens the nation’s long-term economic prosperity. The workforce simply does not have enough workers and skilled candidates to fill an ever-increasing number of high-skilled jobs. 7 million jobs were open in December 2018, but only 6.3 million unemployed people were looking for work.

With such a shortfall of candidates, it’s no wonder that the top reason enterprises are struggling to hire the right people is competition from other employers (43%). There simply aren’t enough bodies to go around!

But it’s more than that. According to the SHRM study, 75% of HR professionals “having recruiting difficulty say there is a shortage of skills in candidates for job openings.”

SHRM breaks out a half-dozen skills that are most likely to be missing among job candidates. Interestingly, in an age when skills in emerging technologies are at a premium — have you seen what AI pros are getting paid these days? — the top missing skills fall into the “soft” category:

  • 37% — Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, creativity
  • 32% — Ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity
  • 31% — Communication
  • 31% — Trade skills (carpentry, plumbing, welding, machining, etc.)
  • 20% — Data analysis/Data science
  • 18% — Science/Engineering/Medical

There’s a lot to unpack with the top two items, so I’ll just focus on those. Everything mentioned in those first two bullet points is about 1) thinking outside the box and 2) being able to function effectively amid uncertainty and change.

These traits are in such high demand now and in the future because digital transformation is reliant only partially on technology. The real key to digital transformation is an organization’s culture. Enterprises that encourage and value workers who proactively solve problems and are able to navigate rapid change will enjoy a huge competitive advantage over organizations that treat employees as mindless, replaceable cogs whose talents outside the scope of their narrowly defined jobs are unknown and unappreciated.

That being said, the data from SHRM makes it clear how difficult it is to find and keep workers with the right hard and soft skills to enable digital transformation. What makes the situation more frustrating for enterprises is that, unlike technical skills, traits such as creativity and the ability to think critically aren’t necessarily teachable (at least in a short amount of time).

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