You may never have heard the terms hard and soft skills before. You understand that you need skills for the workplace, but you assume that skills are skills. In this post, we highlight the difference between hard skills and soft skills.
The world is changing at a rapid rate. We are entering what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution brings a ripping up of the rulebook on all that we know about the world of work. Technologies are being innovated daily that are disrupting how we do business. There is AI, blockchain, the IoT, 5G connectivity and renewable energy systems, and many more, all pushing against the status quo.
While we might feel all this innovation happens in a far-off place and does not impact us, we need to realise that it is drastically reshaping the workplace. Practical-based skills are now being achieved by machines more than ever. The only advantage we have as people is our humanity. The demonstration of being human is encapsulated in our soft skills, the intra-and interpersonal abilities that computers cannot replicate.
What are hard skills?
Our CV of old will have been filled with a list of qualifications that assessed our hard skills. We will have studied to be a specialist in a specific area of expertise defined by a set of capabilities. These hard skills are those things we learn to do that we could never have done without the training. We are not born with these capabilities.
The mechanic learns to change an engine, the chef knows how to bake effectively, and the computer scientist knows how to code. Other examples of a hard skill include speaking foreign languages, tiling and plastering, fast keyboard typing, admin tasks such as bookkeeping and data input, copywriting, carpentry, first aid, and many more.
Most hard skills are learned to leverage a career, though some people use them to practice a hobby or interest.
What are soft skills?
Hard skills are easy to quantify. You can either do it effectively, or you can’t. Soft skills are more challenging to assess as they are not linked to a specific job or responsibility but instead to how you interact as a person in the workplace. Leadership is an obvious example. There are a host of human skills needed to be a great leader that cannot be easily measured.
While these soft skills can be learned to some degree in training and through courses, they are fundamentally linked to a person’s personality. Therefore, soft skills are more often developed while undertaking work experience.
While this gives the impression that soft skills are more challenging to attain than hard skills, this is not always the case. A person can be born with an aptitude for a soft skill, which is not the case with a hard skill. If we spend some time reflecting, discover those soft skills we are predisposed to be successful in and use this to guide our journey into the workplace.
The importance of soft skills in the modern workplace is apparent. They are a manifestation of our humanity, and something technology does not replicate. These soft skills can also transfer across workplaces, so we will never be without the opportunity to find work if we can harness them.
Examples of soft skills include communication, negotiation, good manners, leadership, conflict resolution, teamwork, adaptability, empathy, creativity, integrity, and more. It is worth noticing how these skills are not centred on a specific career but are more about becoming a better person.
Hard Skills versus Soft Skills
You could argue that both hard and soft skills are valuable when looking to start a career. Some hard skills are pre-requisites for getting a job in your chosen career, as it is how a human resources director may shortlist candidates. However, when you get to interview, it is most definitely your soft skills on show and will get you over the line.
Studies seem to suggest that business values soft skills more than academic performance. There are constant requests to universities to focus on work-ready abilities – also known as soft skills. The theory seems sound.
If you develop human beings who are adaptable and capable of flexibly moving from workplace to workplace, they will be more successful. For a business that might need to pivot quickly and change its focus because of, let us say, a pandemic, then these soft skills are crucial too.
While hard skills are teachable, soft skills are developed through experience.
You need to look to your role models and feel inspired to try this out in your life. You need to reflect on what works for you and correct your course if it doesn’t get the results you hoped. It is a process of constant improvement and learning never stops.