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Soft skills for business success

May 2017
Soft skills for business success


Executive summary 1

1. The skills for future success 2

2. Soft skills will become increasingly important 7

3. Soft skills drive business outcomes 12

4. How do we perform? 17

5. The soft skills gap 25

6. Developing and credentialing soft skills 30

Conclusions 33

References 34

Appendix A: Soft skills productivity dividend 36

Soft skills for business success

Executive summary

A workforce with a broad mix of skills is To do this, Deloitte Access Economics For example, more than nine in every ten
crucial for business success and national consulted with key industry experts and employers think their graduates have the
prosperity. Businesses with more skilled analysed new detailed data from job capacity for teamwork and the ability to
staff have higher rates of innovation and matching tools, LinkedIn and Workible, understand different viewpoints.
productivity. And academic literature has to assess both international and domestic
found a consistent relationship between demand for these skills and how well- But there appears to be a gap between
human capital and economic growth. positioned Australians are to provide them. demand and supply. A quarter of entry-
level employers report having difficulty
But do we fully understand the As technology, globalisation and filling vacancies because applicants
workforce skills necessary for success? demographic shifts continue to shape lack employability skills (Department
Formal qualifications and technical skills how businesses compete, the importance of Employment 2016). And these gaps can
are only part of the requirements for of soft skills will grow. In this report, Deloitte be significant across a wide range of soft
modern employees. ‘Soft skills’ and Access Economics forecasts that soft skill- skills. In a new analysis of data from Workible,
personal attributes are just as intensive occupations will account for an online search tool, we find that demand
important to success. Indeed ten of the two-thirds of all jobs by 2030, compared for self-management, digital skills, problem
sixteen ‘crucial proficiencies in the 21st to half of all jobs in 2000. The number of solving and critical thinking skills (measured
century’ identified by the World Economic jobs in soft-skill intensive occupations is by skill requirements listed by employers
Forum are non-technical. expected to grow at 2.5 times the rate in job listings) significantly exceeds supply
of jobs in other occupations. That’s a big (measured by skills listed by employees
Soft skills are also referred to as workforce change, similar in magnitude to in résumés). The difference between demand
employability skills, enterprise skills and other major trends, like the shift from ‘blue- and supply is as large as 45 percentage
they are transferable between industries collar’ to ‘white-collar’ work, and the growing points for communication skills.
and occupations. They include things like participation of women in the workforce.
communication, teamwork, and problem Despite the value that businesses place on
solving, as well as emotional judgement, So does our workforce have the skills soft skills, data from LinkedIn profiles reveals
professional ethics and global citizenship. necessary to foster business success? It’s that less than 1% of Australians report
a challenging question to answer neatly. But having any soft skills on their profiles.
DeakinCo. asked Deloitte Access Economics overall, the evidence available suggests that, This under-reporting is consistent globally,
to assess the importance of obtaining and as a nation, we have a strong soft-skills base. and might be because we are uncomfortable
measuring soft skills to better understand with claiming skills without formal credentials,
areas that need to be improved in the or because we underestimate the relative
Australian workforce and businesses. importance of soft skills.

Figure i: Attainment on various soft skills in Australia Businesses recognise the importance of
building soft skills in their employees in order
to harness the broader benefits. We estimate
Self that businesses spend $4 billion every
management Professional year on training, and another $7 billion
each year on recruiting the right staff. Yet
without objectively and comprehensively
Digital measuring soft skills, it is difficult to measure
solving literacy the impact of this investment.
How do we perform?
Given the importance of soft skills, it is
Australia stacks up relatively
important that we continue to build our
well on measures of key
soft skills Teamwork understanding of how we perform.
Effectively investing in improving our soft
skills will bring significant benefits – to
individuals, businesses and our economy.

Critical Deloitte Access Economics

Innovation thinking


Soft skills for business success

1. The skills for future success


jobs will be
soft skill
by 2030

Soft skills of
employees could
increase revenue
by more than

Demand for soft
skills exceeds
supply by up to

percentage points

report having any
soft skills on their
Linkedin report

of employers have
difficulty filling entry-
level vacancies because
applicants lack soft skills
Soft skills for business success

1. The skills for future success

Having the right mix of skills is crucial to A 2015 survey of over 450 business
the success of individuals, businesses, and managers and executives in the Western Technical
societies. For individuals, better skills and Sydney area found that the overwhelming skills
qualifications lead to higher incomes and majority of businesses cite team work
improved health. Businesses with highly (98%), time management (97%), and
skilled staff have higher rates of innovation communication skills (95%) as being
and productivity (Department of Education among the most vital skills for applicants
2016). And economic literature has found to have (TAFE NSW 2015).
a consistent relationship between human
capital and economic growth. Clearly, as a nation we are well aware Soft Personal
of the importance of skills, and willing skills attributes
The importance of skills has only grown to invest in building them.
over time. This is evident in the investment
in upskilling; government spending on But do we fully understand the skills
tertiary education in Australia has grown necessary for success? Most of the
68% over the last 10 years, now equalling national conversation is narrowly focused
over $30 billion (ABS 2016a). on the attainment of skills that we measure
– comparisons of numeracy and literacy in
Businesses are also well aware of the schools, or enrolments in undergraduate
importance of soft skills. science and technology.

These technical skills are obviously

important. But they only form a part
of the picture.

Soft skills for business success

In fact, soft skills and personal attributes •• Transferable skills: are skills that can be but also to progress within an
can be just as important as technical applied in varied contexts – for example enterprise so as to achieve one’s
skills. Ten of the sixteen ‘crucial a skill which can be developed in one job potential and contribute successfully
proficiencies for education in the 21st or industry but is still relevant and useful to enterprise strategic directions’.
century’ identified by the World Economic in another job or industry, even where Some universities such as Deakin
Forum are non-technical. the contexts are very different. This University, RMIT, and Sydney University
terminology is used by the Committee also use the term employability skills to
1.1 Defining non-technical skills for Economic Development of Australia highlight their importance for graduate
Non-technical skills have become (2015) and is cited as being increasingly employment outcomes.
widely acknowledged as important important as employees transfer to
for workplace outcomes in addition to different industries more frequently. •• Enterprise skills: a combination of
traditional technical skills. However, there developed problem solving techniques
is no universal definition for these skills. •• Employability skills: defined by the and ability to think creatively to come
Different terminology is often used and Department of Education, Employment up with new solutions and recognise
can highlight different elements of these and Workplace Relations (2002) as ‘skills business opportunities (Foundation for
skills. Some examples of the various labels required not only to gain employment, Young Australians 2016).
of non-technical skills include:

Literacy ICT literacy

Numeracy Financial literacy

Scientific literacy Cultural and civic literacy

How students
apply core skills to Curiosity
everyday tasks

Critical thinking/
problem-solving 21st Persistence/grit
Creativity skills Character Adaptability
Competencies qualities
How students How students
Communication approach complex approach Leadership
challenges their changing
Collaboration Social and cultural

Source: World Economic Forum (2015)

Soft skills for business success

•• Soft skills: often used by the business (2002) considered these personal school curriculum’s general capabilities
community that relate to a series of attributes as separate from employability framework, the employability skills listed
interpersonal or intrapersonal qualities skills. These attributes will not be by the Department of Education Science
necessary for individual. considered in the below analysis. and Training, DeakinCo.’s list of capabilities,
and core competencies listed by the OECD.
•• Capabilities: specify a standard •• Competencies: are the specification
expected in professional practice. They of the skills, knowledge, and attributes Similarly, Bowles, Harris, and Wilson
represent a holistic view of an individual’s required to achieve performance (2016) conducted a comparison of
ability to perform in a range of contexts standards for specific occupations capability frameworks developed by
and their potential to improve (Bowles (Bowles and Lanyon 2016). Australian and New Zealand organisations
and Lanyon 2016). in the last decade, and found that while
Despite the variety in terminology and terms may vary, significant commonality
•• Personal attributes: describes the emphasis, there are clearly overlapping existed in the capabilities considered core
intrinsic traits of an individual such as elements among these skills. For example, to future success.
loyalty or motivation. The Department Table 1.1 shows the overlaps between
of Education and Workplace Relations four skills frameworks – the Australian

Table 1.1: Typologies of non-technical skills

Australian Department of Education, OECD core

Skill DeakinCo.
curriculum Science and Training competencies




Problem solving

Digital literacy

Critical thinking


Emotional judgement

Global citizenship

Professional ethics

Enterprise skills

Source: Bowles and Lanyon (2016), Department of Education, Science, and Training (2002), Australian Curriculum Assessment and
Reporting Authority (2016), OECD (2014).

Soft skills for business success

1.1 This report Chapter 3 discusses relevant literature

For the sake of consistency, this on how soft skills can contribute to
report will use the term ‘soft skills’ better outcomes for business – including
to describe a set of non-technical skills increased productivity and revenue.
– like communication skills, emotional
judgement, problem solving and digital Chapter 4 looks at a range of evidence
literacy – as set out above. to consider the levels of soft skills in
the Australian workforce. It includes
Soft skills are critical to our future success, analysis of custom LinkedIn data
and their importance is recognised by on reported soft skills capabilities
education providers, academics, human in Australian professionals.
resource departments, and businesses.
However, there are many gaps in the Chapter 5 identifies a skills gap
literature about the impact of soft skills in soft skills in Australia.
on businesses, and the current attainment
Finally, Chapter 6 examines the need
level of soft skills in Australia.
for comprehensive and objective
In this context, Chapter 2 outlines how measurement of soft skills, both
megatrends like technology, globalisation, to enable better recruitment and to
and demographic change will contribute assist in assessing the effectiveness
to more demand for people with soft skills, of training programs.
and presents forecasts about how this will
translate into more soft skill intensive jobs
in the Australian economy.

Soft skills for business success

2. Soft skills will become

increasingly important


Soft skill intensive

jobs will grow

faster than
other jobs

Soft skill intensive

jobs will make up

of all jobs
by 2030

of businesses need
leadership skill
development for the
digital future

Soft skills for business success

2. Soft skills will become

increasingly important
Despite a lack of focus on soft skills in Being able to understand the needs of Our forecasts are based on distinguishing
the national debate, they are critical to the customers from different geographical between occupations that are relatively
success of both individuals and businesses. and cultural backgrounds, communicate soft skill intensive from the Australian
meaningfully, and deal with complex and New Zealand Standard Classification
As noted by the World Economic Forum, ambiguous problems can be the key to of Occupations (ANZSCO). ANZSCO is
they are especially relevant in the 21st customer service and differentiation. a classification system which groups and
century. Technology enhancements classifies jobs in Australia and New Zealand
enable many routine technical tasks – In this environment, the need for soft based on the required skill level (in terms
like operating machinery and skills is going to intensify. In new research, of the qualifications or experience
bookkeeping – to be automated. Yet we have examined the characteristics of required) and areas of specialisation (for
businesses increasingly rely on critical Australian occupations, to determine the example farming or education). It allows
thinking, emotional judgement, and relative intensity of their soft skill needs. each job to be classified at one of five
problem solving skills in their staff to hierarchical levels. For the purpose of this
not just understand what technology is We find that the number of jobs in soft
analysis, we have considered the soft skill
saying, but analyse why it is saying it, and skill intensive occupations is expected
intensity of occupations at the sub-major
what ought to be done. And although to grow at 2.5 times the rate of jobs in
group level (that is, the second highest
globalisation offers businesses access to less soft skill intensive occupations. And by
level of aggregation) with some of the
a broader customer base, it also exposes 2030, we predict that soft skill intensive
occupations used listed in Table 2.2.
them to increasing competition. occupations will make up almost two-
thirds of the workforce by 2030.

Figure 2.1: Soft skill intensive employment

2000 59%
2015 63%

Soft skill intensive occupations in 2000 Soft skill intensive occupations in 2015

Soft skill intensive occupations in 2030 Other occupations

Source: Deloitte Access Economics

Soft skills for business success

Table 2.2: ANZSCO classification of occupations by soft skill intensity

Trends in human capital

Soft skill intensive occupations Occupations with less soft skill intensity Deloitte’s recently released Global
Trends in Human Capital asks over
Managers Trades workers 10,000 business and HR leaders from
140 countries about how businesses
Professionals Clerical workers plan to invest in their teams. It found
that businesses are transitioning away
Engineers, ICT, and Science technicians Sales support workers from traditional models of hierarchical
organisation based on expertise in
Community and personal Machinery operators and drivers
specific areas. Instead, there is
services workers increasing focus on more flexible teams
whose members have a wide variety of
Office managers and
perspectives, allowing the business to
program administration
react quickly to new developments.

Sales representatives and These new models are leading to

sales persons changes in recruitment practices.
Instead of checking qualifications,
employers are trying to assess the
2.1 Megatrends shaping future For Australian businesses, this represents a demonstrated skills of potential
skill needs significant opportunity for growth – 98% of candidates. For example, more than
a quarter of global business leaders
The rate of change of technology the world economy are outside of national
surveyed (29%) are using games and
is driving an increasingly competitive boundaries, yet only 7% of Australian
simulations to identify skills to assess
environment, lowering barriers to businesses are exporting (World Bank
potential candidates.
entry both domestically and overseas. 2016a, ABS 2016a).
The expectations and preferences of A focus on skills rather than credentials
customers and staff continue to evolve. At the same time, digital disruption is not just relevant for entry-level staff.
waves have been, and are continuing Successful leaders are increasingly
These forces are changing how businesses to hit the skills landscape, both in collaborative, problem solving figures
operate – from strategy and business Australia and across the globe. who transcend the concept of ‘leader
models to procedures and product Technological advancements are as hero’. The ability of leaders to adapt
offerings. Having staff with the right mix making it easier to connect people to digital transformation and uncover
of technical and soft skills is becoming across geographies, and soft skills will opportunities has become crucial to
many businesses. Over 42% of
more important for business success. become more important. As technology
businesses cite leadership
advances, more business functions can
As the skill needs of business evolve, development as very important.
be automated, meaning that an increasing
so too does the workforce. The impacts proportion of skills gaps that businesses The employers surveyed also noted
of globalisation, digital disruption, and are likely to face in the future will revolve a change in the way employees and
demographic change are well-known. around soft skills. Recent modelling has future leaders are trained and
But they are changing the workforce suggested that almost 40% of jobs in developed. In the old model,
that businesses have access to, Australia have a high probability of being credentials are provided by universities
as well as their skills. substituted with computing over the and accredited institutions, with skills
only certified through credentials.
next 10 to 15 years (Durrant-Whyte et al.
Globalisation, while not a new In the new model, credentials are
2015). As technical functions continue
phenomenon, is accelerating. unbundled, and certificates can be
to be outsourced to machines, having obtained in many ways. Employees
Facilitated by technology and more
staff with strong soft skills will become are increasingly seeking more
liberal trade policy, the barriers between
more important than ever as a way for flexible credentials.
economies are continuing to erode. Trade
businesses to connect with customers.
now represents nearly 30% of global GDP
(and 20% in Australia) – and the value
of trade is predicted to continue to grow
(World Bank 2016).

Soft skills for business success

Employees will be called on to combine There has also been a shift away from
digital literacy with essential human skills pure price competition, with a new focus Soft skills in the Australian
such as communication and problem on customer service as a battleground Tax Office
solving. Despite the low cost of for business. Globalisation and digital
customer service technology options such disruption have lowered the barriers to Nardine McLoughlin, Director of Core
and Enabling at the Australian Taxation
as automated phone answering systems entry for business, meaning that today
Office (ATO), thinks soft skills are
and text messaging, customers prefer live the real competition is often in the quality
critical to the performance of the ATO.
chat (73%), which provides access to real of the customer experience. Businesses “We are client facing for one, and there
employees in real time, to phones (44%) are finding that customers are looking are growing expectations from the
and SMS (41%) as a way to get in touch for service, not just low prices. Ebiquity’s community about level of service,”
with firms (Charlton 2013). Businesses Global Customer Service survey highlights she explains, “We are also growing
stand to benefit from successfully the importance of customer service: quickly, and people need to be able
integrating both types of skills to anticipate 74% of surveyed consumers said they to effectively communicate and
and meet customer needs. have spent more with a company because self-manage to keep up”.
of a history of positive customer service
Australia’s population is ageing, the Over the last 12-18 months the ATO
(Ebiquity 2014).
proportion of those aged 65 and over has has dedicated significant time and
resources to providing soft skills
almost doubled from 8% in 1964 to 15% Quality of customer service will be
training for its staff. “Other agencies
in 2014 (AIHW 2017). As the population dependent on the extent to which
ask us for advice about building similar
ages, demand for healthcare will rise and employees have soft skills such as programs themselves,” explains Kirsten
therefore jobs in healthcare (and caring communication, problem solving, Hughes, Director of Leadership &
jobs more generally) will grow. Soft skills emotional judgement, and global Management and Delivery Services.
are critical for these roles, as being able citizenship, and as such soft skills
to empathise with customers is essential. are very important for the future. The ATO has developed a number
of training courses over the past few
2.2 Impacts on business 2.3 Soft skill intensive occupations years, focussing on leadership, time
These megatrends affecting society have will grow management, communication,
changed the way businesses operate, We predict that soft skilled jobs will grow teamwork, and resilience. “We think
and as such what skills are needed. faster than less soft skilled jobs over the of leadership as a practice, not a
position – it’s a skill that can be
next 18 years. The soft skill intensive
The boundaries between professions developed through training, so we
occupation annual growth rate (1.6%)
and industries are dissolving. Deloitte build courses to further skill levels
is predicted to grow 2.5 times faster within the ATO. Some of these courses
Access Economics (2016a) found that 60% than occupations where soft skills are are designed in-house, some are
of employees planning to pursue a new less prevalent (0.6%) to 2035, as shown developed externally and some are
job in the next ten years are planning to in Figure 2.2. co-designed. It’s really a mix,”
change to a different industry, a different says Hughes.
role, or both. People change jobs far The faster rate of growth in soft skilled
more now than ever before: the average jobs reflects a historical trend. Indeed, Soft skills are also being built into
Australian stays with an employer for between 2000 and 2015 soft skill intensive performance monitoring within the
around seven years (ABS 2015). occupation growth (2.7%) was three ATO. “We have a new performance
times the rate of non-soft skill intensive system which is more focused on
Soft skills are transferable, employees behaviours and regular open
occupation growth (0.9%).
can use them across a range of industries. conversations”, says Hughes.
As such, soft skills will be increasingly The speed at which soft skilled
And according to McLoughlin, soft skills
important for the future’s mobile labour occupations are growing is already will only become more important.
force. And the benefits of soft skills extend impacting the composition of soft skilled “We expect that skills like
beyond employees, LinkedIn data shows occupations. These occupations have communication, collaboration, and
that businesses with employees who have grown from approximately half of all jobs teamwork will be increasingly
large professional networks do better in 2000 to nearly 60% of all jobs in 2015. important as technology allows for
(Deloitte Access Economics 2016b). While experiencing slower growth from remote working and cross-office
2015 to 2035, Deloitte Access Economics projects in the future.”
predicts that soft skilled occupations
will make up 63% of all jobs by 2030.

Soft skills for business success

Figure 2.2: Compound annual growth

rates in Australian jobs by skill requirement, Developing soft skills through education
Qualifications and credentials have long been used to provide businesses and
individuals with a signal of technical skills. And their use has been rising for decades.
In the early 1980s only 5% of the Australian working age population held a bachelor
degree or above; today over 25% hold such a qualification (Deloitte Access Economics

And this is mirrored globally; the average proportion of the population in OECD
countries with tertiary education has almost doubled from 23% in 1995 to 42%
in 2015 (OECD 2015).

Yet educational institutions in Australia are recognising the need for soft skills
for future requirements in the Australian workforce. At a school level, the COAG
Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians (2008) stated that:
0.0% “The curriculum will support young people to develop a range of generic and
Soft skill Other jobs employability skills that have particular application to the world of work and further
intensive jobs education and training”
Source: Deloitte Access Economics
Soft skills are now included alongside technical skills in the Australian curriculum,
with the key skills including:
These forecasts are also supported
•• ICT capability
by historical developments in other
developed economies. Analysing data •• Critical and creative thinking
from the US, Demming (2015) found that •• Ethical understanding
the employment share of occupations
•• Intercultural understanding
requiring relatively higher levels of social
skills increased. These occupations were •• Personal and social capability.
also valued more highly in the labour State governments structure the teaching and assessments of these skills. This year,
market. This supports our forecast that an Victorian schools will begin assessing these skills over year groups in a similar style to
increasing share of employment will be in NAPLAN (Department of Education and Training Victoria 2016).
soft skill intensive occupations.
Soft skills are also increasingly being recognised in tertiary education. Deakin University
It is important to note that all occupations has built soft skills into all their degrees alongside technical or disciplinary skills as
require some level of soft skills. The key capabilities for graduates. They also have a system of ‘hallmark’ awards, where
classification above recognises that some students who have excelled in soft skill development are recognised in the same way
that students with outstanding technical skills are (Deakin Business School 2016). Other
occupations requires a higher level of soft
universities are engaged in similar programs to increase the emphasis on soft skills.
skills than other occupations. However, the
distinction between soft skilled intensive And this emphasis may continue to grow, after the Government launched an inquiry in
occupations and occupations with less soft late 2016 into how Australia’s tertiary education system can meet the needs of a future
skill intensity is not clear cut. labour force that will be increasingly reliant on innovation and creativity (APH 2017).

Soft skills for business success

3. Soft skills drive

business outcomes


The level of soft

skills of employees
account for

of the productivity gap
between the best and
worst performing firms

Digital literacy can

drive customer
engagement and
increase spending by


Soft skills of
employees could
increase revenue
by more than

Soft skills for business success

3. Soft skills drive

business outcomes
Why do employers and businesses place Critical-thinkers and problem-solvers Individuals with good emotional judgement
such high value on individuals with soft can identify potential issues before they and teamwork skills could help to foster
skills? There are a range of anecdotal and become significant, and implement optimal better workplace culture.
intuitive reasons. A person with good solutions. Team members with strong
communication skills could be easier to self-management skills could require less
work with and relate better to clients, oversight and be more reliable.
ultimately driving business outcomes.

Figure 3.1: Ways that soft skills can contribute to business success


Emotional Exports and

judgement foreign

Teamwork Collaboration engagement
(lower turnover)
Business success


Lower brand risk Customer focus

Critical thinking

Professional ethics Problem solving

Source: Deloitte Access Economics

Soft skills for business success

Figure 3.1 shows how staff with high •• An individual’s ability to come up Some skills like professional ethics may
levels of soft skills can contribute to better with unique and useful ideas can be not be at the forefront of hiring decisions
performance on key metrics that lead to translated in to a business context. By or business strategy. Yet professional ethics
business success. There is quantitative implementing these ideas (requiring a are crucial to developing and maintaining
evidence to support this, for example: combination of soft and technical skills), trust between staff members, with
businesses become innovative – and customers and with suppliers. For example,
•• Higher levels of emotional judgement
innovation has long been recognised an increasing number of businesses have
of staff has been found to lead to lower
as a source of business success. This public Corporate Social Responsibility
levels of staff turnover. Jordan and Troth
is particularly important in a business policies or business conduct policies to
(2011) used a survey of 578 employees
environment where the pace of change provide certainty to customers and
which found that self-assessed measures
is increasing; businesses need to be more attract talent.
of emotional intelligence were highly
adaptive and able to respond quicker to
correlated (0.90) with intentions of Professional ethical standards aren’t always
capitalise on emerging opportunities.
staying in their job. This has a large set or enforced by law. Yet consumers can
The Department of Industry (2016) has
impact on the profitability of a business react against companies who are perceived
found that businesses that regularly
given that retraining staff amounts for as acting unethically. The global fashion
innovate generate $4 million more in
75% of a skilled employee’s first year retailers who had production sourced in
revenue than firms that did not innovate.
salary (Deloitte Access Economics 2016a). the Rana Plaza factory found themselves
This estimate is based on data from
6000 Australian businesses based on under global scrutiny after a fire in 2013
•• Employees that exercise global
a three year period, between 2011-12 where a number of workers died, with
citizenship are better placed to reach
and 2013-14. some facing consumer boycotts for
global markets. A survey of over 900
their lack of consideration (Avaaz 2016).
internationally active businesses found
that three quarters believed that local
employees with cross cultural
or language skills were important for
their ability to operate in the most
important international markets (Export
Council of Australia 2016). Further,
a study of almost 4,000 exporting
companies in the Netherlands showed
that 41% of the difference in export
performance across companies can be
explained by trust, commitment, cultural
sensitivity, technological innovation, and
entrepreneurship and communicative
competence (Bloemer 2013).

•• Businesses need staff with digital

literacy skills to engage with customers
online. And customers who engage with
companies over social media spend 20%
to 40% more money than customers
who do not (Barry et al. 2011).

•• A study of 445 participants enrolled

in communication courses found that
increasing the quality of communication
between team members led to greater
efficiency in teams as work was more
evenly shared (Lam 2015).

Soft skills for business success

Ultimately, businesses value soft

skills because they contribute to Soft skills at the heart of Cisco’s success
business success. Studies show that
Cisco is a global technology provider. In Australia, a focus on customers and their
soft skills contribute to higher revenue,
needs is critical to Cisco’s success. “We are a customer focused organisation. To deliver
productivity, and profitability, across outstanding solutions to our customers, all our staff – whether they be sales, delivery
industries and countries. or support – need to be able to truly understand our customers, their needs and
wants,” explains Raymond Janse van Rensburg, Director of Systems Engineers.
In a study of 1,100 manufacturing plants
in the UK, for example, Haskell et al. (2003) And soft skills are fundamental to build Cisco’s relationship with clients. In particular,
find that differences in the level of soft communication and critical thinking skills have become increasingly necessary to
skills of employees account for 3% of the understand the unique technical needs of customers. According to Paul Wittich,
total factor productivity gap between Head of Virtual Sales, “15 years ago, all you needed was a solid technical understanding.
firms in the top and bottom deciles. Now, soft skills are just as valuable as technical skills.”
This controls for a range of other factors –
Although soft skills are important across the board, expectations are different across
like age, experience, qualifications, and the roles. For example Account Managers and Systems Engineers are expected to have
firm of employment. better self-management and interpersonal skills.

This increase in productivity means more However Shamila Wickramage, Human Resource Manager at Cisco, notes that soft
revenue for businesses. For the average skills are a key consideration in recruitment at all levels. “Recruitment decisions are
Australian business, for example, it no longer just about skimming a resume for technical skills. There needs to be evidence
means that having staff with more soft that a candidate will have the attitude and fit in with our collaborative culture.”
skills could increase revenue by over
Recognising the benefit of soft skills for their business, Cisco has trialled objectively
$90,000.1 And given that the findings
assessing the soft skills attainment of their sales staff through DeakinCo.’s Professional
relate to manufacturing, the return could Practice Credentials.
be even higher in industries which are
more soft skill focused, like health and Wittich says that, through this process, staff become more self-aware of their
professional services. capabilities. By recognising that these skills can be transferred to different contexts,
the credentialing process has enabled Cisco to improve the internal mobility of their
These findings are mirrored in Australia. staff. “Efficient communication, with everyone aligned and working as a single
A survey of over 1,000 managers and entity. That determines the success of us as an organisation and the success
employees (Deloitte Access Economics of our customers.”
2014), that employees who have and
According to Janse van Rensburg, these skills will only become more important over
utilise teamwork skills (a proxy for
time. “20 years ago, business communication was all about face to face communication.
soft skills) are 3% more productive, Today, the collaborative experiences across messaging and video enabled meetings
and worth almost $2,000 more per facilitated the development of a whole new set of communication skills.”
year to a business than those using less
of these skills. For Cisco, soft skill needs will continue to evolve over time. However, they will remain
critically important to the overall success of the business.

The increase in productivity means more revenue for businesses. The revenue of the average Australian business would
increase revenue by over $90,000 if staff increased their soft skill levels by the amount found by Haskell et al. (2003). This
figure is based on an increase to the average Australian business revenue of $3 million as reported by the Australian
Taxation Office for 2013-14 financial year (ATO statistics 2016).

Soft skills for business success

Empirical studies also show that developing

soft skills increases the value of the The role of soft skills in promotion
employee. One study found that returns
Having well developed soft skills is now recognised to be a way for individuals to improve
to investments in soft skills were equal
their chances at getting a job, and there is also increasing recognition that soft skills lead
to the return to hard skills. In a study of to greater success once in the front door. With the average length tenure at a company
1,500 employees, Balcar (2016) found that remaining at 7 years, there is a growing focus on skills needed for employees to progress
increasing soft skills and hard skills would internally – through promotions or movements across departments.
increase the value of employees by 8.51%
and 8.84% respectively. This focus is also important for businesses: internal promotions and transfers offer
benefits over external hires. For example, those who are hired internally bring with
This additional value to businesses is them tacit knowledge of the firm and business. Bidwell (2011) found that internally
a result of a range of factors including hired staff in all departments of an investment banking firm performed significantly
time savings – they can more quickly find better in performance evaluations than externally hired staff.
information from others, and spend less
Soft skills are becoming key indicators for significant employers. One bank’s new
time replicating work already performed. performance framework uses a ‘behaviours first approach’ to ensure professional
It also improves the quality of the work standards are maintained in every interaction with customers. The program also
produced. Further details involving the encourages employees to adopt a ‘growth mind set’ that places the onus on individual
methodology of this calculation can be employees to self-manage individual programs and develop their own capabilities
found in the Appendix. required for leadership positions.

And the benefits of investing in soft skills At Deloitte, soft skills are used to differentiate high performing staff ready to move
can be even higher for businesses who to the next stage of their career. According to human capital partner, Kate McDonald
have low levels of existing soft skills in “When we designed our consulting performance framework we reflected on the things
that set high performers (at any level) apart – and it came down to very much the
their businesses. For example, female
‘non-technical’ skills.” For McDonald, the skills that make the difference in a high
employees in an Indian garment factory
performing team include:
who were randomly assigned to a soft skills
training program recorded a 12% increase •• Building relationships based on empathy
in productivity (Adhvaryu et al. 2016). •• Having intellectual curiosity
•• Being comfortable with ambiguity and new experiences
The magnitude of this increase may
be attributable to lower starting stock •• Demonstrating flexibility when things change
of soft skills, and as such may not be •• Developing self and others
replicable more broadly. However, it does
•• Having strong communication skills
demonstrate that soft skills can bring
significant benefits, even – and perhaps •• Seeking to collaborate.
especially – in industries where these
are traditionally seen as less critical.

Soft skills for business success

4. How do we perform?


The 3
most common
soft skills are
teamwork and
digital skills

of Australians
have the highest
proficiency in
digital skills

Soft skills are

more likely to
be endorsed
compared to
a technical skill

Soft skills for business success

4. How do we perform?

Evidence on what proportion of Australians The supply of soft skills is measured by

have soft skills, which soft skills we have the proportion of employees reporting that Workible
and at what level we have these skills they used a particular soft skill in their most
Workible is the provider of jobs sites
is scarce. There is no consolidated or recent role. As individuals may have latent
technology platforms and power a
consistent measurement of all soft skills skills which are unused or underused in significant network of job sites in
across the working population. However, that role, what is reported by employees on Australia. It collects data on both
a number of different sources have Workible may underestimate the true level employer demand (through job
information about attainment of of soft skills attainment in the workforce. advertisements) and employee skills
selected skills. (through résumés which are provided
However, the data also demonstrates to the job sites).
For the first time, this report supplements that often people are unsure of their skill
existing studies with bespoke data from levels. Soft skills are under-reported, likely For this project, Workible analysed
LinkedIn and Workible to provide a more due in part to the absence of a nationally over 175,000 résumés and more than
168,000 job listings across 60 industry
consistent and up-to-date view of the recognised set of criteria against which to
sectors to understand the demand for,
extent to which Australians have soft skills. compare soft skill levels.
and supply of, soft skills in Australia.
Workible is the provider of jobs sites 4.1 Attainment of soft skills
The supply of soft skills is measured by
technology platforms and power a in Australia the proportion of employees reporting
significant network of job sites in Australia. Quantifying the extent to which soft skills that they used a particular soft skill in
It collects data on both employer demand are held within Australia is challenging their most recent role. As individuals
(through job advertisements) and because information about soft skill may have latent skills which are unused
employee skills (through résumés which attainment is limited. However, a number or underused in that role, what is
are provided to the job sites). of different sources have been compiled reported by employees on Workible
and analysed below. may underestimate the true level of
For this project, Workible analysed over soft skills attainment in the workforce.
175,000 résumés and more than 168,000
job listings across 60 industry sectors to
understand the demand for, and supply
of, soft skills in Australia.

Figure 4.1: Snapshot of evidence on soft skills attainment in Australia

12% of Australians report having used 95.8% of graduates observe

self-management skills in their last job professional ethics

92.6% of graduates are
6.2% of Australians have the
recognised by employers for
highest level of digital literacy
their capacity to problem solve
Problem Digital
solving How do we perform? literacy
Australia stacks up relatively
well on measures of
key soft skills
92.7% of graduates have the ability judgement Teamwork 96.1% of graduates display the
to understand different viewpoints capacity for teamwork


4.6 million Australians are employed in 26% of Australians report having used
innovative business communication skills in their last job

Source: LinkedIn data (2017), Oliver et al. (2014), OECD (2015), ABS (2015)
Soft skills for business success

Table 4.1: Measurement of soft-skill attainment

Deloitte Access
Skill Workible OECD LinkedIn Oliver et al.




Problem solving

Digital literacy

Critical thinking


Emotional judgement

Global citizenship

Professional ethics

Source: Deloitte Access Economics, OECD, LinkedIn custom data request, Oliver et al., Australian Bureau of Statistics,
Workible custom data request

Soft skills for business success

4.1.1 Overall soft skill levels in Australia However, given that the data provided The research found that vast majority
According to data from Workible, the three by Workible relates to self-reported skills, of Australian graduates have soft skills.
most commonly reported soft skills in they may understate the actual level 93.4% of supervisors reported that
Australia are communication, teamwork, of skills. This might be in part because graduates had good communication skills,
and digital skills, as pictured in Chart 4.1. individuals are not aware of the value and 92.6% reported they had the capacity
More than one in every four Australians employers place on these skills, or be to problem solve.
report having communication skills; hesitant to list a skill which is more difficult
similarly, 23% of Australians report to independently verify. Further, employees Further, it suggests that graduates have
having teamwork skills. may have a skill which they did not use in developed global citizenship skills, with
their most recent role, which would not be 92.7% reporting graduates have the ability
Other skills, such as critical thinking and reflected in their résumé. As such, it is likely to understand different viewpoints, 95.8%
problem solving, were less common in that Workible data understates the actual saying they observe ethical standards,
Workible résumés. Indeed, while Workible levels of soft skill attainment in Australia. and 91.7% reporting graduates are
did not collect data on innovation and prepared to work in multicultural
emotional judgement, less than 1% As an indication, an employer survey environments.
of résumés listed ‘ethical’ or ‘global conducted in 2014 asked recent graduates
perspectives and understanding’ and their work supervisors whether their Table 4.2 also highlights graduate
(as proxies for professional ethics training had equipped them with a number attainment of innovation and teamwork.
and global citizenship respectively). of soft skills (Oliver et al. 2014). Over 2,700 In all cases, at least 89% of employers felt
graduates and 539 supervisors were graduates had these skills, with teamwork
surveyed as part of the analysis. particularly developed.

Chart 4.1: Reported soft skills in supply, Workible

Communication 26%

Teamwork 23%

Digital skills 17%

Self management 12%

Critical thinking 6%

Problem solving 4%

Source: Workible custom data (2017)

Soft skills for business success

Table 4.2: Results from the employer satisfaction survey

Proportion answering qualification prepared graduate well or very well Graduate Supervisor

Communication (oral and written) 86.5% 93.4%

Capacity to analyse and solve problems 82.7% 92.6%

Capacity to understand different viewpoints 91.0% 92.7%

Observing professional and general ethics standards N/A 95.8%

Ability to operate in an international or multicultural context N/A 91.7%

Ability to develop innovative ideas or new opportunities N/A 89.0%

Collaborating effectively with colleagues to complete tasks 86.8% 94.7%

Capacity for teamwork and cooperation N/A 96.1%

Source: Oliver et al. 2014

It is important to note some caveats about Levels of soft skill attainment can vary
the employer satisfaction data outlined by industry and type of role. For example,
above. There is a possible bias in the data in 2013, Deloitte Access Economics
as the respondents and supervisors are published Australia’s STEM workforce:
only providing perceptions of their soft a survey of employers; research which
skill level that may not be consistent involved a survey of 1,065 employers
across individuals. The authors also across a range of Science, Technology,
recognise in the study the possibility Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
of selection bias as the participation of heavy industries.
supervisors required graduate assistance.
This meant that there is a risk that only Employers were asked about the skills
graduates with strong work performance of both STEM and non-STEM staff
(and associated soft skills) would agree including soft skills like communication
to assist with supervisor participation in (interpersonal), self-management (time
the study (Oliver et al. 2014). management), critical thinking, and
problem solving skills in the workplace.
In addition to these potential biases,
these proportions cannot be extrapolated Chart 4.2 shows employers felt that their
from graduates to be representative of STEM employees demonstrated a range
the Australian population. Interestingly, of soft skills, with a relatively small
graduates felt less accomplished than proportion saying that skills were poor
employers gave them credit for in every or very poor.
instance. This is consistent with the
On the other hand, these employers
under-reporting of soft skills (discussed
thought that non-STEM staff within their
in Section 4.2).
organisations were much more likely to
perform poorly on problem solving or
critical thinking, as shown in Chart 4.3.

Soft skills for business success

Chart 4.2: Soft skills of STEM workers in STEM industries

Time management 39 221 185 59

Interpersonal skills 29 195 199 92

Critical thinking 23 101 207 188

Creative problem-solving 20 124 201 171

Complex problem-solving 9 75 223 209

Very poor Poor Acceptable Good Very good

Source: Deloitte Access Economics (2013)

Chart 4.3: Soft skills of non-STEM workers in STEM industries

Time management 26 159 146 66

Interpersonal skills 15 129 188 78

Critical thinking 60 181 102 53

Creative problem-solving 60 168 112 58

Complex problem-solving 60 186 91 57

Very poor Poor Acceptable Good Very good

Source: Deloitte Access Economics (2013)

Soft skills for business success

4.1.2 International comparisons Table 4.3: Digital literacy in OECD countries

Data from the OECD also suggests that
Australians have relatively strong digital
skills. Looking at how Australia rates against Level Australia UK Singapore US
the rest of the world, the OECD examined
skill levels around the world though a global Below Level 1 9.2% 15.1% 12.5% 15.8% 14.2%
survey of 215,000 adults from 33 countries
in 2016. Digital literacy (or problem solving Level 1 28.9% 33.9% 28.7% 26% 25.7%
in technology-rich environments) was
measured for each country, with people Level 2 31.8% 29.3% 29.3% 26% 25.7%
classified into levels of digital proficiency
Level 3 6.2% 5.7% 7.7% 5.1% 1.9%
(Level 3 being the highest).

Table 4.3 shows the attainment of digital Source: OCED (2015)

literacy among Australians. Just over 6%
of the population displayed the highest Table 4.4: Prevalence of soft skills on LinkedIn profiles (global average normalised to 1)
level of proficiency, compared with the
OECD average of 1.9%. Digital literacy is
higher amongst Australians than the OECD Australia Singapore UK US
average, as well as the UK and the US.
Problem solving 3.1 0.0 1.2 2.1
LinkedIn data paints a similar picture –
Australians have high soft skill attainment Digital literacy 2.5 2.0 1.6 2.1
levels compared with other countries.
Australians are three times more likely Innovation 2.1 1.2 1.4 1.8
to list problem solving as a skill on
Communication 2.1 1.3 1.7 1.7
their LinkedIn account than the global
average, suggesting higher attainment. Self-management 1.9 1.5 1.6 1.8
Similarly, they are more than twice as
likely to list digital literacy, innovation, Professional ethics 1.9 2.3 1.6 1.9
and communication as the average,
and almost twice as likely to include self- Source: LinkedIn customised data, 2017
management and professional ethics.

Table 4.4 shows how Australia compares

to similar countries. The global average is
set to 1, so it can be seen that Australia
scores above the average in a number of
soft skills. However, beyond that, Australia
rates higher than Singapore, the US, and
the UK in soft skills as well (the exception
being professional ethics).

Clearly, Australians are more proficient

in some soft skills, such as communication
and teamwork than in others, such as
critical thinking and problem solving.
However, a comparison with the level
of skills demanded by employers
suggests that there is a broader soft
skills gap in industries across the board.
This is discussed in the next chapter.

Soft skills for business success

4.2 Under-reporting of soft skills The most likely explanation is that people Alternatively, employees may think some
Although the data shows that Australians are not confident in assessing and skills (like ethical practice or digital literacy)
do have soft skills, this comes largely from reporting their soft skills. This is certainly are a given, or be unfamiliar with the
indirect sources (such as employer surveys the case amongst graduates; as discussed names of soft skills like critical thinking
and ABS business statistics). When asking above, graduates’ self-assessments of and innovation.
people directly about skill levels, they will their soft skill attainment were lower than
report technical skills and professional employer reported attainment for every LinkedIn data also shows that soft skills
qualifications, but LinkedIn data shows skill in the Oliver et al. survey. are more likely to be endorsed than
that very few report soft skills. technical skills. In Australia, soft skills
A lack of formal, independent credentials are nine times more likely to be endorsed
Less than 1% of Australian LinkedIn which verify these skills could play a role compared to a technical skill. This means
profiles list soft skills and capabilities in this under-reporting. Individuals may that people should report having these
such as communication and problem choose not to report a skill because they skills, so there is a question as to why
solving. This is similar to other feel that their assessment is subjective they do not.
countries such as the United States, and cannot be verified.
the United Kingdom and Singapore.
Another possibility is that Australian
Workible data tells a similar story. employees underestimate the value
Although soft skills like communication that employers place on soft skills,
and teamwork are more commonly leading to a misconception that they are
reported in Workible résumés, there are less important and should not be included.
still gaps in reporting – for example, only
4% of workers list problem solving skills.

Soft skills for business success

5. The soft skills gap


of employers have
difficulty filling entry-
level vacancies because
applicants lack soft skills

report a
skills gap

skills are in most short supply

Soft skills for business success

5. The soft skills gap

Soft skills are in demand. Recognising Soft skills are clearly important for all
the importance of soft skills, businesses occupations and industries. Yet outside
regularly advertise for staff with specific of communication skills, the importance
soft skills. of individual skills varies across industries
and roles, as shown in Table 5.2.
For example, nearly three in every
four jobs advertised with the Workible For example, Workible data shows that
network list communication skills as a critical thinking is over six times as likely
requirement, as pictured in Chart 5.1. to be listed in a job advertisement for
This demand is ubiquitous across science as in sport, fitness and recreation.
industries – communication skills are Creative skills, which could be a measure
ranked in the top three most demanded of innovation at an individual level, was
soft skills across all industries covered requested in 61% of marketing and
by Workible. communications roles but only in
2% of accounting jobs.

Chart 5.1: Demand for soft skills, Workible

Communication 71%

Digital skills 26%

Critical Thinking 25%

Problem Solving 19%

Self-management 20%

Teamwork 14%

Ethical 11%

Global perspective
and understanding 3%

Source: Workible

Table 5.2: Top five skills demanded by industry, Workible

Top ranked Second ranked Third ranked Fourth ranked Fifth ranked
soft skill soft skill soft skill soft skill soft skill

Mining and resources Communication Critical thinking Problem solving Digital skills Self management

Marketing and
Communication Digital skills Critical thinking Self management Problem solving

Nannies and babysitters Ethical Self management Communication Problem solving Critical thinking

Creative media and arts Digital skills Communication Critical thinking Self management Problem solving

Medical and health care Communication Self management Problem solving Critical thinking Digital skills

Source: Workible

Soft skills for business success

Yet there appears to be a shortage of

these skills. A survey by the Department
of Employment found that one quarter
of employers recruiting for entry level
positions have difficulty filling vacancies
because applicants lack employability
skills (Department of Employment 2016).

Even at an individual soft skill level,

there are significant gaps between soft
skill demand (measured through job
advertisements) and soft skill supply
(measured through résumés). With the
exception of teamwork, every soft skill for
which both demand and supply data are
available through Workible lists a
shortage, as pictured in Chart 5.2.

Chart 5.2: The soft skills gap









Communication Self management Digital skills Problem solving Critical thinking

Demand Supply Skill gap

Source: Workible

Soft skills for business success

Despite being the most commonly listed Research by the Victorian Department
soft skill, communication skills remain in of Education and Training found that of Leadership skills developed
most short supply, with a 45 percentage 5,700 businesses surveyed, nearly one at BSchool
point difference between demand (71%) third identified a lack of skills within their
BSchool is a training provider that
and reported supply (26%). businesses now or within the next 12
fosters leadership and entrepreneurial
months. Of these, just under half reported
Workible data also shows that there are skills in business owners and
soft skills as a skills shortfall, second only
skills shortages in self-management, management teams. Co-founder,
to job specific technical skills (Department Ryan Trainor explains that “BSchool
digital skills, problem solving and of Education and Training Victoria 2015). began when we started to ask industry
critical thinking. Teamwork is the only
and businesses what they needed in
skill that is in higher supply (23%) than what Similarly, the Australian Institute of their leaders. And we found that the
is demanded (14%). As insufficient data Management conducted a survey of over most common requirement across the
was available on emotional judgement, 2,000 managers around Australia and 76% board was future skills”.
innovation, global citizenship and confirmed they had a workforce skills gap
professional ethics, it is difficult to assess in their organisation (Australian Institute While technical skills will always be
the extent to which skills shortages may of Management 2009). And soft skills are necessary, intra and interpersonal
skills will become increasingly
be present in these individual soft skills. a large part of those skills in short supply
necessary for success, especially for
with a third of all respondents identifying
The need for soft skills is even more leaders. According to Trainor, “you can
a communication and interpersonal skills
prominent in leadership positions. A survey think of individuals like computers. We
gap in their organisations. can easily ‘download programs’ or gain
of 3,700 business executives and managers
technical skills. But what enables you to
from organisations around the world in Soft skills specifically are repeatedly
adapt a wide range of skills is your soft
digital firms found that soft skills were more identified as in-demand and in short skills – it’s the operating system which
important for determining the success supply. A LinkedIn survey revealed that scaffolds everything else.” This will be
of a leader than technical knowledge. When 69% of HR decision makers in Australia and increasingly important as the half-life
asked about the most important skill for New Zealand find it difficult to fill leadership of formal qualifications is becoming
leaders to succeed in a digital environment, roles. The top reason cited for this difficulty shorter, for example software
only 18% of respondents listed having was a lack of soft skills (45%) amongst engineers must redevelop skills
technical knowledge, compared to 22% applicants (LinkedIn 2016). According every 12-18 months (Deloitte 2017).
of respondents who thought that having to Workible data, there is a deficit in
Yet it is vital that organisations are
problem solving and collaborative skills leadership skills specifically. One-third of
measuring and reporting the levels
were more important (Kane et al., 2016). roles ask for leadership qualities but only of these future skills. Formal
17% of potential workers state having qualifications, like degrees, enable
The increasing importance of soft leadership skills. individuals to reveal their technical
skills as roles become more senior is skills, but there are less people who
also highlighted in data from Workible. Each of these surveys asked can formally verify their future skills.
Specifically, problem solving skills are respondents what the major impacts of BSchool co-founder, Lincoln Trainor
listed as a requirement for C-level and these shortages were. The answers are explains “I have a background in the
management roles in 38% of cases, summarised in Table 5.3 below, with the military, where you wear your skills
more than twice as often as for office common themes being increased pressure on your sleeve – your ranks and badges
administration and support roles (17%). on existing staff, a decline in product/ mean that everyone around you can
As employees work up the ranks, soft service quality, and a reduction instantly understand what skills you
skills only become more important. in innovation within businesses. have. However, in the business world,
we don’t have these explicit signals. It
For decisions makers, having the ability
can take a long time for an employer,
to effectively communicate, problem
colleague or client to understand what
solve, and think critically is important you bring to the table.”
for success.

Soft skills for business success

Table 5.3: The impacts of skills shortages

Largest Department of Education Australian Institute LinkedIn

impacts and Training of Management
Increased workload for Loss of employee
1 More stress on employees
other staff engagement/morale
Difficulty in meeting
2 Lower staff morale Decline in innovation
quality standards
Loss of business or orders Losing some high
3 Decline in collaboration
to competitors performing employees
Delays in developing new Reduction in customer Inability to meet current
products or services service standards clients’ needs
Withdrawal of certain products
5 Impact on profits/performance goals Increase in employee turnover
or services

Source: Victorian Department of Education and Training (2015), Australian Institute of Management (2009), and LinkedIn (2016)

Work by the Foundation for Young Demand for soft skills is evident in this
Australians (FYA) into skills required by literature, and is set to only increase in the
young people shows the extent of the future. As the labour force becomes more
demand for soft skills in the Australian mobile and competitive, and the demand
economy. The FYA analysed 4,600 skills for services grows, soft skills will become
requested by employers across 2.7 million ever more important in the economy.
job advertisements, and from this grouped
jobs into 7 new ‘job clusters’. Each of these
clusters has a set of skills that are required,
and each of the 7 clusters reference
the need for specific soft skills such as
communication skills, teamwork, problem
solving, and digital literacy. This analysis
highlights the strong demand for soft
skills: soft skills were requested by
employers across all 7 job clusters
identified by the study.

Soft skills for business success

6. Developing and
credentialing soft skills


of employers provide
structured or
informal training

Recruiting for
candidates with the
right skills costs

$7 billion

Businesses spend

$4 billion
on training and
developing employees
every year

Soft skills for business success

6. Developing and
credentialing soft skills
It can be difficult for businesses and Yet developments affecting work mean We estimate that businesses spend
individuals to objectively assess skill levels. that it has become unrealistic to develop $7 billion annually on recruitment.
Individuals tend to overstate their own the necessary skills at the beginning of This figure is based on a report by the
abilities – of one million American students, a career, especially as career spans are Society for Human Resource Management
85% rated themselves above average in lengthening (The Economist 2017). and adjusted for inflation (as cited by
their ability to get along with others (Alicke Masud 2012).
and Govorun 2005). And employers and An alternative model that concentrates on
recruiters may be subject to unconscious learning outcomes is offered by DeakinCo. And the costs of hiring someone with
biases – for example, thinking that people Rather than focus on developing the soft the wrong skills can be large. A survey
with English as a second language have skills themselves, DeakinCo. provides by Robert Half found that one third of
poorer communication skills. independent assessment of soft skills that 1,400 US executives surveyed felt the top
have been demonstrated in practice by factor for a hiring failure was a poor skills
One solution to this problem is signalling applicants as well as reflection on their match (Robert Half 2011). And the cost of
– independent accreditation and/or experience using that soft skill (Bowles replacing a bad hire six months into the
qualification processes which allow and Lanyon 2016). This provides additional job will still cost two and a half times the
businesses and individuals to objectively assurance that the holder of the credential person’s salary (Yager 2017). This estimate
assess an individual’s skills. Yet credentials has proficiency with the skill and awareness does not include the lower productivity
for soft skills are just beginning to emerge. that can encourage use in varied settings. from the employee or the impact on staff
morale for other staff.
These processes often involve training The benefits of credentials for soft skills do
programs that focus on learning inputs not only accrue to the individuals but also Beyond providing a tool for assessing
such as hours spent in learning or to businesses. Assessing individual skills promotions and recruitment, credentials
a comprehension test at the end of is difficult – and employers place a high for soft skills could also help businesses
a course. This is the route often taken by premium on getting it right. more effectively allocate and evaluate
systems as seen in the box in Chapter its training programs.
2 on soft skills in the education system.

Soft skills for business success

On the job training – whether it be through

workshops and courses, e-learning or Developing soft skills on the job
traineeships – is important to teaching
Businesses often underestimate the importance of soft skills in ensuring day-to-day
both technical and soft skills. In 2003, the
operations are effective, according to Arun Pradhan, a senior learning and performance
Australian Bureau of Statistics found that consultant at DeakinCo.
81% of employers provide structured
or informal training for staff. Pradhan describes how “many companies come to us thinking they have a problem with
their staff’s technical skills. But, when we dive deeper, we often uncover a disguised soft
And this training can be costly. Looking skills problem.” For example, Pradhan describes a situation where an internal IT
at intermediate uses of education services support team wasn’t meeting business’s needs. “On face value it presented as a gap
by all industries, we estimate in technical skills, but the underlying issues were their inability to work in a complex
that Australian businesses, governmental team and weak communication skills when engaging stakeholders.”
and non-governmental organisations
When considering how to address such challenges, Arun points to the vast difference
spent $4 billion on training in 2016, or between an academic understanding of a soft skill and the ability to apply it. He
roughly $300 per employee2 (ABS 2016b). explains “improving soft skills goes beyond formal training, which tends to focus on
This is even higher in recent studies in ‘knowledge’ over deep skill.”
the US where in 2014 the average cost
of direct learning expenditure was $1,208 This can be particularly important for recently promoted managers. According to
per employee (Association for Talent Pradhan, “internal staff are often promoted to people leader roles because of their
technical expertise or ability to achieve individual success.” But leadership and
Development as cited by Miller 2014).
management can require a broader skillset. “New managers quickly need supported
Without a measurement of soft skills, opportunities to develop and apply the advanced communication, teamwork and
it is difficult to assess the effectiveness problem solving skills required to lead their teams.”
of training, and the return on investment This improvement in leadership could bring broader benefits for the Australian
for businesses. Credentialing offers economy. A Deloitte Access Economics report, Businesses of Tomorrow (2016), found
a route for employees to demonstrate that halving the gap in management effectiveness between Australia and the world’s
their attainment of soft skills that can be best could mean a $70 billion boost to our economy.
used to measure the impact of training.
The benefits to businesses from credentials Arun believes that credentialing soft skills can improve the ability of businesses to
develop their team. “Credentials can provide employers with robust insights into soft
for soft skills are two-fold. Firstly,
skills capabilities which will allow businesses to take a more scientific approach to
recruitment processes can be made more
evaluating skills gaps, recruitment, and training requirements. In that sense, credentials
efficient as credentials allow recruiters for soft skills are part of a broader data driven movement in human resources and
to pre-screen potential candidates corporate learning.
for desired soft skills. Just as technical
qualifications signal the technical expertise
of a candidate, soft skill credentials provide
employers with a standard measure of
attainment across cohorts. Secondly,
more targeted recruitment for soft skilled
candidates can allow businesses to make
savings in training and developing their
workforce later on.

This spending reflects the use of technical, vocational, tertiary,
arts, sports, adult and community education services by industries,
including government departments and agencies. This does not
include final government or household consumption expenditure
on education.
Soft skills for business success


Soft skills are clearly important for This demand for soft skills is expected to
businesses to achieve success through increase. Soft skill intensive occupations
greater revenue, accessing new customers are growing 2.5 times more quickly
and lower employee turnover. Skills than more other occupations. They also
associated with collaboration such as team outnumber more technical roles and by
work, communication and problem solving 2030 are expected to account for two
and innovation have significant financial thirds of all jobs in the economy.
benefits for the business as employees
who used these skills may be worth Given the importance of soft skills in
$2,000 more per year to the business. improving business performance, we need
to focus more on soft skills and continue
There is only a patchwork of evidence to build the evidence base.
of soft skill attainment. The evidence
we do have suggests that the Australian Part of this is about comprehensively and
workforce have these capabilities to some objectively measuring attainment of soft
extent. However, much of this data is skills in Australia. This is important with
based on self-assessment or with no clear $4 billion per year spent on training and
assessment criteria. $7 billion spent on recruitment each year
by business. This total of $11 billion in
Employers are looking for candidates with annual expenditure on business training
these skills more than ever before. For and recruitment could be spent more
One quarter of all surveyed employers effectively if employers could better assess
recruiting for entry level positions soft skills, and if candidates and employees
have difficulty filling vacancies because could track their own development.
applicants lack employability skills. Objectively measuring soft skills would
allow businesses to identify gaps in their
These skills are also in demand for those organisation and make strategic decisions
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survey revealed that 69% of HR decision our capabilities in years to come.
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of soft skills (45%) amongst applicants
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Soft skills for business success

Appendix A: Soft skills

productivity dividend
The productivity dividend of almost Collaboration was considered a proxy
$2,000 per employee from increased variable for soft skills in general as it
soft skills is based on data from a survey was assumed to be highly correlated
for the Deloitte Access Economics report, with other soft skill variables. Skills
The Collaborative Economy (2014). Both such as communication, problem
employees and managers of organisations solving, and digital literacy are likely to
who collaborated were asked to provide be highly correlated with the amount
an estimate of their weekly time savings of collaboration. No specific employee
that were derived from working in a team. that is highly skilled teamwork or is involved
Respondents were asked to also provide in teamwork often is not likely to have all
estimates of activities that wasted time the soft skills to the same level. However,
while collaborating. on average, employees that collaborate well
will on average have a higher level of these
The net effect time savings figure skills than employees that are not often
was multiplied by the average hours using teamwork skills.
that managers and employees spent
collaborating per week. To get a dollar
value, the net time savings were multiplied
by the average salary for employees and
employers respectively as an indicator of
market value. This led to an estimate of per
week savings for employees and managers.
This figure was adjusted for inflation to
bring the figure to current value terms.

Soft skills for business success

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around the need for soft skills and their measurement. You should not refer to or use our name
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Soft skills for business success


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