The workforce shortage is here to stay. The U.S. birthrate has been on a steady decline for more than two decades. An even sharper drop in birthrate and the accelerated retirement of Baby Boomers since the onset of the pandemic is eroding the workforce from both ends.
This means employers will not have access to the same volume of talent that they have had in the past. However, the workforce shortage isn’t simply attributed to population trends. We are also facing a significant skills gap. This is why we are seeing historically low unemployment, rampant wage inflation and more than 11 million open jobs simultaneously.
In today’s ultra-competitive talent market, finding people—the right people with the right skills—has become increasingly more difficult. Talent and skills deficiencies limit our productivity and put a premium on labor and goods. The workforce, as we’ve known it, has fundamentally changed. Businesses are tasked with doing more with fewer human resources.
Technical proficiency may get workers in the door, but soft skills foster the flexibility and agility to keep them in the building.
HR can and must adapt to the new dynamics of today’s workforce. To maximize the productivity of the available workforce, we will need to do two things:
- Increase the use of traditionally untapped talent.
- Develop a more flexible workforce.
We must maintain a concerted effort to foster more-inclusive workplaces. This means engaging workers with a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and opinions.
In addition, we can create a more flexible workforce by advancing interdisciplinary skills development. Cultivating transferable skills that apply across a range of work types and industries is critical to responding to shifts in workplace dynamics and business demand.
Soft skills such as critical thinking, organization, innovation, cooperation, leadership and interpersonal communications are vital to business operations. They are primary drivers of flexibility, collaboration, problem solving and dependability. Soft skills are people skills and precursors for leadership attributes that enable workers to effectively interact with others through relationship building, good communication and adaptability. These skills are also key catalysts for great teamwork.
Soft skills cannot supplant technical competency. Work will always require specialized, hard-skill development. Both types of skills play an important role in the world of work. While hard skills are tactical, soft skills are more strategic. I see soft skills as force multipliers, or power skills. They complement and amplify hard skills and expand workforce potential.
Technical proficiency may get workers in the door, but soft skills foster the flexibility and agility to keep them in the building as technology and work evolve. Workers well-equipped with soft skills have greater career durability and longevity.
Employers need more of these empathetic, engaging workers who can interact effectively with others. Workers who possess strong people skills are inherently adept at building productive relationships, resolving conflict and discovering win-win solutions.
Cultivating these soft-skill behaviors, personality traits and work habits empowers workplace resilience and agility. At their core, soft skills enable better work and prepare us for whatever the future brings.
Photograph by Cade Martin for HR Magazine.