Soft Skills Research
Last Updated November 10th, 2023
The following soft skills research provides background and context for the SkillBars soft skills training programs. It contains links to PDF whitepapers and relevant excerpts from the most reputable and credible industry sources on topics related to labor markets, workplace culture, workforce development, employee engagement, and the future of work.
To help ensure that IT teams are collaborating effectively with the
rest of the business, senior leaders in tech departments may need
to bridge skill gaps. “Tech talent often excels with technical skills,
but soft skills tend to be a hurdle, so the challenge for tech leaders
is to bridge over the gap to create a healthy blend of both," says von
Roeder. “Getting this balance right is something the tech industry has
still to master."
LinkedIn has created a list of in-demand skills featured in 78% of global job postings
since 2015. This includes soft skills like leadership, communication, and problem-solving
and hard skills like digital marketing, financial analysis, and business development.
Too often, however, many educational institutions have not been nimble in reimagining programs to prepare students with
employable skills. In short, schools aren’t giving students the skills that employers need. As technology advances in
the workplace, fewer workers are needed for basic, repetitive tasks, better suited to automation. While technical
skills are in high demand, business requirements are also shifting toward uniquely human or soft skills, such as
critical thinking, communication, and empathetic judgment.
Purposeful communication is a skill and an art. To
achieve it, leaders, managers, and influencers will
need to be prepared to craft and deliver authentic
messages that show vulnerability and empathy.
LinkedIn Learning•2023•52 pages
Human skills remain critically important, especially with the ongoing prevalence of hybrid work. 10 skills companies
need most: Management, Communication, Customer Service, Leadership, Sales, Project Management, Research, Analytical Skills,Marketing, Teamwork
World Economic Forum•2023•296 pages
Analytical thinking is considered a core
skill by more companies than any other skill
and constitutes, on average, 9% of the core
skills reported by companies. Creative thinking,
another cognitive skill, ranks second, ahead of
three self-efficacy skills – resilience, flexibility
and agility; motivation and self-awareness; and
curiosity and lifelong learning – in recognition
of the importance of workers ability to adapt
to disrupted workplaces. Dependability
and attention to detail, ranks sixth, behind
technological literacy. The core skills top 10 is
completed by two attitudes relating to working
with others – empathy and active listening and
leadership and social influence – as well as
A lot has changed within the last years of exceptional circumstances, shaping how
we live, work, lead, collaborate and also how we learn – and some of these changes
are here to stay. We have learnt that skills based learning in the flow of work, new
technologies and the use of data shape the future of learning. But are individuals,
teams and organizations ready for it? Is the learning culture in organizations targeted
on what the workforce actually needs, using the human power to adapt and
acquire new skills? Do the keywords agile, continuous, life-long, social and
collaborative accurately describe this culture?
From the worker’s perspective, organizational capital determines both the quality of their immediate day-to-day
experience and their potential for longer-term development and earnings, among other things. Work is at the center of
people’s lives and well-being. The pandemic highlighted the importance of “good work" — that is, the access to
good-quality, safe, and secure work—and the value of human skills.
Sustainability is a complex problem and needs to be addressed at all levels and in every department of an organization,
using multidimensional and multi-disciplinary approaches to avoid silo-thinking. Thus, strategic and forward-thinking,
multi-disciplinary teamwork, creative problem-solving, effective communication and story telling, advocacy and
diplomacy, and driving change, are some examples of very relevant soft skills.
World Economic Forum•2023•28 pages
Abilities and skills are the set of process-oriented capabilities that enable an individual to achieve
a specific goal. At the highest level of abstraction, abilities and skills fall into either: (1) cognitive
and analytical aptitudes, including creativity, critical thinking and problem solving; or (2)
interpersonal (non-cognitive) aptitudes, including communication, collaboration and the suite of
socio-emotional skills. Skills falling into these two realms feature prominently among the skills sought after by
employers. In one study of 2 million online job postings, the top five skills that employers requested were
communication, creativity, collaboration, creative problem-solving and critical thinking.
Society for Human Resource Management•2022•21 pages
Soft skills are those related to behavioral and interpersonal abilities, such as the ability to effectively communicate,
problem-solve, lead, collaborate and organize. More than 8 in 10 employees (84%) say it is important to them to get
training on soft skills, with leadership training the most desired (cited by 54% of respondents). Just 7% of employees
say they don’t need training in soft skills. More than three-quarters of organizations (76%) say they are likely to
focus on soft-skills training within the next 12 months.
Organizations should explicitly assist creation of team common ground (shared vocabulary, mental models, practices,
experiences etc.) and work standards, facilitate team communication, provide mechanisms for teamwork transparency. HR
also has an important role to play in improving practices for workload sharing, group rewards, and team competency
development, which are antecedent to building the interpersonal trust needed for team collaboration, and ultimately feed
into team innovation.
Boston Consulting Group•2022•44 pages
Digital jobs don’t just demand programming skills. These technical jobs now demand a balance
of soft skills as well. These include skills involving organization, time management, verbal
communication, leadership, positive thinking, listening, critical thinking, and building effective
Harvard Business School & Accenture•2022•74 pages
Making hidden workers integral to a company’s talent management strategy requires more than simply hiring them into entry-level positions. They should be afforded the same opportunity as well as necessary support for career progression. That will require investing in the professional development and corporate learning systems that reflect the skills profiles of formerly hidden workers as well as the company’s expectations of its future talent requirements.
Growing up in a technology-based world and experiencing life during a pandemic can make someone feel isolated. On the flip side, it can make them more independent and equipped with greater autonomy. Gen Zs deprioritised teamwork and social skills as areas of development, while instead, they prioritise critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In contrast, Millennials place teamwork and social skills at the top of their list.
The digital economy is evolving so fast that it is estimated that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 have yet to be invented.
AI and robotics will transform existing jobs and required skillsets; employees will need to be agile, flexible,
and equipped with a strong set of soft skills, on top of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) background.
Deloitte Access Economics•2022•55 pages
Even before the onset of COVID-19, businesses were grappling with rapidly changing skills needs. Advances in technology (alongside increasingly service focused industries) were driving a spike in demand for soft skills and other skills that are difficult to automate, such as communication and leadership, while repetitive, manual tasks were increasingly being automated. In fact, in previous research commissioned by DeakinCo., Deloitte Access Economics estimated that two-thirds of all jobs would be soft-skill intensive by 2030.
I think we’ve spent the past 150 years making people more like machines. Think about Office Space and TPS reports coming
back. That was funny because that’s how offices worked back then, much like manufacturing. Now those TPS reports are
automated. What’s important now is a different set of skills: interpersonal skills, creativity, qualities that are more
innately human. How a company invests in individuals—it’s no longer, “Hey, can I teach you exactly how to fill out the
TPS report?" Instead, it’s, “How can I teach you social-interaction skills? How can I help you progress as a human
The gloss has come off with employers. As economic change has sped up, industry has increasingly called for job-ready
graduates rather than have to train them in-house; and the expectations of graduates by employers are being
disappointed. Many employers say they are looking primarily for things that universities do not directly teach, such as
social skills, emotional intelligence, teamwork, communication and time management.
UNICEF & World Business Council for Sustainable Development•2021•27 pages
Transferable skills: Also called “life skills", “soft skills" or “socio-emotional skills", these skills empower
children and young people to: navigate and meet the evolving demands of the labor market; be independent, creative and
critical thinkers; remain agile, flexible and adaptive; master complex problems; and connect with others in highly
collaborative settings. Transferable skills include problem solving, negotiation, managing emotions, empathy and
communication, among others. Placed in the center of Figure 3, they can be seen as ‘magic glue’, connecting,
reinforcing, and helping develop other skills types.
LinkedIn Learning•2021•65 pages
Older generations of learners are focused more on developing their soft skills, like communication and leadership. But
Gen Z employees are spending their time learning how to be more productive, and on business and technology basics — from
learning how to code Python to understanding online marketing foundations. In the list of top courses that Gen Z took
last year, you’ll notice that a majority of them are hard skills.
Soft skills represent the biggest gaps in today’s L&D programs. Employers indicate that there are plenty of L&D options
available when it comes to technical skills, but soft skills are not being offered as widely.
CIPD & Accenture•2021•52 pages
The need for learning is greater than ever. Business priorities have shifted rapidly, creating needs to flex the workforce and their skills around new work. Digital workplaces and the acceleration of cloud computing have demanded more specialist data, security and technology skills. A desire for more inclusive and meaningful experiences continues to drive needs for empathy, leadership, communication and other human skills. And probably the greatest need has been from individuals, who see personal growth as an essential part of meaningful work and careers.
Northeastern University Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy•2021•33 pages
Leadership and “people skills" - particularly those that would drive an organization’s culture, were mentioned by
virtually all participants as their top priority. Many indicated that this represented a recent shift, primarily due to
the pandemic and needing to support employees working in the remote environment and up-skilling leaders to for example
identify and support wellbeing and mental health. One health professional emphasized that when organizations are not
prioritizing soft skills, they are putting their organizations at risk. Many underscored that, particularly among
managers, having the soft skills necessary to drive the organizational culture was critical, particularly in times of
disruption and change. Across all levels of the workforce, “human" skills are being given priority given the growing
pace of technology adoption and automation
When developing, hiring, and retraining IT talent, consider the individual’s learning agility and other soft skills,
which may matter more than educational background or formal work experience.
LinkedIn Learning•2020•45 pages
This year, talent developers are laser focused on building soft skills— interpersonal skills that are foundational to
every employee’s success, regardless of their functional role or how the technology landscape evolves. This is a smart
investment, given that the shelf life of technical skills is relatively short—less than 5 years—while strong leadership,
creative, and communication skills are always in demand.
Georgetown University•2020•72 pages
In the modern labor market, five cognitive competencies are in high demand across all occupational groups: (1)
communication, (2) teamwork, (3) sales and customer service, (4) leadership, and (5) problem solving and complex
thinking. • Among the five competencies with generally high demand, communication is dominant: it has the highest
demand across occupations, is in the top three most-demanded competencies within every occupational group, and is
associated with the highest earnings boosts across the labor market.
Harvard Business Review & SHRM•2019•12 pages
More companies may be organizing teams and working collaboratively, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing it particularly
well, or that employees are more efficient or effective. “Doing teams well all goes back to companies being willing to
invest in employee development and training in how to work on teams.
Executives’ responses indicate workers require a blend of both digital skills and soft skills – also called behavioral
skills – to be successful in the workforce. As we revealed in our
2016 report on global skills,
“Facing the storm," executives have placed a high value on digital skills. In fact, the report indicates that six in ten
cited fundamental and advanced technical capabilities in math, science, and computing as their most sought-after
In the past, soft skills that support collaboration and communication typically took a back seat to specialized
technical skills. Today, soft skills are having a breakout moment. These enduring, essentially human skills are
increasing in value in part because they cannot be replicated by machines.
World Economic Forum•2019•93 pages
Human capital is a crucial asset of any business—in fact, in an age of ubiquitous technology, it is human skills,
creativity and capability that will form the competitive edge for any organization. Financing and implementing a
reskilling revolution must thus be viewed as a critical investment for business, workers and economies alike.
A young person’s “employability" is subjective, but generally it derives from the acquisition of both technical skills
and foundational skills (i.e. communication, teamwork, etc.). Compared to children growing up in low-income and
less-educated families, children raised in prosperous families and communities are not only likelier to receive a more
rigorous technical education, but they also learn “soft skills" and are exposed to the social networks that allow them
to succeed in a white-collar world.
New research shows that the jobs in highest demand today, and those with the fastest accelera- tion in wages, are
so-called “hybrid jobs" that bring together technical skills, including technology op- erations and data analysis and
interpretation, with “soft" skills in areas such as communication,service, and collaboration. The concept of superjobs
takes this shift one step further. In a superjob, technology has not only changed the nature of the skills the job
requires but has changed the nature of the work and the job itself. Superjobs require the breadth of tech- nical and
soft skills that hybrid jobs do—but also combine parts of different traditional jobs into integrated roles that leverage
the significant productivity and efficiency gains that can arise when people work with smart machines, data, and
However, research is beginning to quantify
the financial value of human skills training
for business. For example, in one study,
workers were given 80 hours of training to
improve skills such as time management,
effective communication, problem-solving,
and financial literacy. The study found
that this human skills training increased
the productivity of workers by 20%, and
provided a net return to businesses from
training of 258%, eight months after
Our research finds that workers of the future will spend considerably more time deploying
these skills than they do today. In aggregate, between 2016 and 2030, demand for these
social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26 percent in the United States
and by 22 percent in Europe. While some of these social and emotional skills are innate,
such as empathy, they can also be honed and, to some extent, taught more easily than
technological skills—for example, advanced communication.
According to a LinkedIn survey of 2,000 business leaders, soft skills
in future candidates are actually found much more important than
hard skills. The survey shows that employers looked for individuals
who demonstrated the following specific soft skills: leadership, communication, collaboration, time management.
Recognizing our growing technological
interconnectedness, the expansion of global markets, youths’
mobility and migration, and the diversity of workplaces, there
is a growing emphasis on “global competence": The ability to
apply acquired soft skills in cross-cultural, multicultural, and
global contexts.56 A common thread across these soft skills,
SEL competencies, and global competencies is that they are
decidedly “human" traits that, for now, are irreplaceable by
The changes in our economy and society in this
century have placed a greater emphasis on the skills
that citizens need to be successful. This diverse set
of skills, often referred to as 21st century skills, and
including critical thinking, creativity, problem solving,
communication, and socio-emotional skills, among
others, are in high demand as the need for rote or
routine-based knowledge decreases due to automation in the workplace (Rotherham & Willingham,
2010). In education specifically, there is the concern
of a global learning crisis—that students are not fully
prepared with the skills they need to thrive in today’s
rapidly changing world (The Education Commission,
Research suggests that while automation can
improve scale, speed, and quality, it does not do
away with jobs. In fact, it might do just the opposite.
As Boston University professor James Bessen has
reported in his research, occupations with greater
levels of computerization and technology experience higher, not lower, employment growth rates.19
What’s more, in many cases, the newly created jobs
are more service-oriented, interpretive, and social,
playing to the essential human skills of creativity,
empathy, communication, and complex problem solving.