There are two words that have peppered my recruitment career. I hear them mentioned almost every day: Skills Shortage.

The inference is that it’s technical, hard skills that are being referenced, and that’s probably true. However, soft skills are increasingly in demand and it’s causing a headache and an opportunity for job seekers.

Let me explain.

When I’m working with a client discussing a job specification we usually focus on the hard skills first, the technical proficiency that’s required and the quantifiable skills that can be taught through training.

Then we move on to the soft skills in the person specification. This is where the conversation becomes really interesting because it’s much more nuanced as we discuss skills that are much harder to teach and difficult to quantify, yet the reason why one person will often be selected from a short-list of candidates who all have similar technical abilities and qualifications.

Both hard skills and soft skills are transferable: they can be applied across different jobs, industries, situations and contexts. This was highlighted by the RGU Report, Making The Switch, citing that more than 90% of northeast Scotland’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability.

Transferability is enabling people to consider moving from jobs within the traditional oil and gas part of the energy sector to a position in the renewables industry, and vice versa.

The hard skills and job-specific competencies fulfil the initial selection process, but it is the soft skills and personal attributes that shape how you work and interact with other people that usually determine who is offered the job.

You’ll recognise soft skills as communication, leadership, management, teamwork, adaptability, and you may even assume these are “buzz words” when you see them on a CV. Far from it, I’ll discuss how to recognise and appropriate highlight your own soft skills in a later post.

Perhaps without realising it you select on soft skills every day too, choosing to interact with people whose attitude is positive, who are encouraging to colleagues, have a great work ethic, take the time to answer your questions or go out of their way to help you solve a problem.

Think about your experiences of when a new hire didn’t work out, or a manager wasn’t respected – it probably wasn’t for their technical abilities but for the way they behaved and treated others. You’re probably familiar too, perhaps experiencing it yourself, of being promoted for your technical abilities only to find that you spend most of your time on people management and people engagement. I’m guessing there were moments when you felt completely out of your depth.

The shift to hybrid working and dispersed team working has elevated the importance of soft skills with effective teams depending on good collaboration and excellent communication.

Soft skills are what makes us human and that’s going to become increasingly significant in a working world where AI is leveraged to automate tasks, minimise the risk of errors and save time in every industry.

This week I heard Tim Peake discuss his return from retirement to lead a team of British astronauts on a commercial space flight. When asked by Andrew Marr about the skills that were needed, I was struck by how Tim emphasised the soft skills of teamwork, resilience and communication. Even in space soft skills rule.

Why is this a headache and an opportunity for job seekers?

The problem that is overlooked though is that there is a soft skills gap. People are rarely supported to develop their soft skills even when it’s glaringly obvious that soft skills could supercharge an organisation’s technical capabilities.

In my next post I’ll explain how to recognise a soft skills gap and identify your own soft skills strengths.