Soft Skills and their value to the UK economy

By Annie Peate, Policy and Campaigns Officer, CIPD, @AnniePeate

The importance of soft skills is an issue that comes up time and time again whenever we speak to employers about the skills they value most in their workforce. Anecdotally we know that level of soft skills impacts productivity of an organisation, as well as the ability to innovate and remain competitive. This week anecdote became fact, as new research carried out for McDonalds UK estimated the worth of soft skills to the UK economy at £88 billion; a value which is set to increase in the next five years to £109 billion. Having employees who can demonstrate such skills as communication, team-working, time-management and initiative, is vital.

On the back of this research, McDonalds UK has announced plans to head-up a new campaign, which the CIPD is supporting alongside other organisations including Barclays and the FSB. The campaign aims to boost awareness of the value of soft skills to UK employers. The campaign also wants to highlight the growing trend amongst employers of recognising soft skills as being as important for workers and employees as academic and technical qualifications. A survey conducted by the CIPD as part of the Learning to Work programme, also uncovered evidence of this shift in employer perceptions. We found that although 23% of employers decided not to recruit a young person due to their lack of technical or specialist skill, 75% said it was a candidate’s lack of soft skills which ultimately held them back.

However, this isn’t just an issue for young people interviewing for their first job. The research for McDonalds UK also highlights how a lack of soft skills can affect an individual who is already working in an organisation by hampering their ability to progress at work and in their job. They estimate that over half a million UK workers will be "significantly held back" in their job opportunities by the end of the decade, which can have serious repercussions for an organisation’s talent pipeline, as well as the morale and productivity of the employee.

The good news is that there are things organisations can do to help boost the soft skills of current, and indeed, future employees. Last September the CIPD published case study based research, Volunteering to Learn, which showed that employee volunteering, particularly with young people, can not only enhance the ‘softer’ skills and behaviours of employees (including team-building, creativity and confidence) but can help to develop similar skills in the young people they interact with. We found that activities such as one-to-one mentoring, skills workshops and taking part in community youth projects, bring ‘double benefits’, resulting in more engaged employees who are able to translate their newly acquired soft skills to the workplace, and young people who are better prepared for the world of work.

The CIPD is committed to promoting volunteering as a way of building soft skills at all ages; whether it be employee volunteering being integrated as part of learning and development strategies, mentoring a young jobseeker via the CIPD’s Steps Ahead Mentoring programme, or coaching students through exams and assessments. We are also partnering with Step up to Serve to help them realise their ambitions of getting more 10-20 year olds participating in meaningful social action by 2020, and are continuing to encourage our members to volunteer in schools via Inspiring the Future. It is through interactions like these that soft skills are grown, developed and help business to thrive – whatever your age.

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  • Anonymous

    Soft skills equate with 'acceptability' and 'likeability skills' and the more these are visible in any environment the easier it becomes to engage with people positively.

    While McDonalds' UK soft skills figures are really revealing and the impact  of their absence / weakness casts a 'not-too-rosy' picture on the UK economy. Having said that, the importance of soft skills globally, and in all areas of life -- corporate, social, familial -- can never be over-emphasized. It's the glue that cements people easily, and bonds otherwise  relationships.

    The level of success of an individual, an organization is directly proportional to the level of its soft-skills presence and applicability is,