Soft Skills, Hard Impact

We can talk about STEM all day long but, the reality is, AI will be able to write really good code. You know what AI can’t do well? Lead people, inspire people, make them feel proud of a job well done.

Startup CTO

At pelotonRPM, we teach people what most people refer to as hard skills. For instance, how to use business tech more effectively in the workplace. However, some of our most in-demand courses have a different focus. For example, how to deliver tough feedback to a high-performing employee who doesn’t know how to take constructive criticism, well, constructively.

There has always been an argument around measurement of soft skills. They’re soft, after all, and aren’t easy to quantify. Squishy stuff, right? There is a growing body of evidence that soft skills have a profound impact on the bottom line. A 2017 study by Namrata Kala of MIT Sloan makes a compelling case that an investment in soft skills development, even in a traditional manufacturing setting, can make a real difference.

Kala’s team studied five textile factories in India and gauged the effectiveness of production lines before, during, and after participants received soft skills training. “When comparing the final program costs against increased revenue, Kala and her colleagues found that in-factory soft skills training returned roughly 250 percent on investment within eight months of its conclusion. Boosts in worker productivity accounted for much of this gain, but a number of other factors contributed, like the ability to perform complex tasks more quickly, short-term gains in improved attendance, and increased retention during the training.”

This makes sense. Even if the participants are conducting repetitive tasks in a factory, they still need to communicate with each other, address challenges that arise on the line, and internalize direction from their managers to be effective as a team. The better they interact with each other the easier it is to get the job done and the greater the financial benefits. As the old saying goes, “…teamwork makes the dream work” and, I suppose, puts money in the bank.

To emphasize how important soft skills are, take a look at this article from the California Farm Bureau entitled “Agricultural Employers Weigh in on Soft Skills.” They recently surveyed 117 employers and found that nine of the top ten desired skills they looked for in job applicants were soft skills. Why? Because while the skills may be soft, their impact on the bottom line is hard, even in technical and process-oriented industries.

So yes, the world needs more engineers and software developers. But what the world really needs is engineers and software developers who are empathetic problem solvers who communicate well, actively listen, and think critically in a strategic manner about the matters at hand!

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