Lack of people skills of graduates concern for UK firms

03 June 2015

Businesses in the UK are struggling with a lack of people skills of graduates, caused by a perception gap on the subject, research by Hay Group shows. While businesses feel people skills are essential for their commercial impact and future leadership, the majority of graduates feel people skills are less important than technical skills, with many of them thinking the skills will prevent them from doing their job right. According to the firm, businesses should respond to this by engaging graduates and helping them develop the needed skills. 

HR consulting firm Hay Group recently released new research into the ‘people skills’ of graduates, titled ‘Are you unlocking your graduates’ potential?’, in which the firm highlights the business/graduate divide on the issue of people skills. For the research, Hay Group surveyed 150 professionals in the UK responsible for the recruitment and initial development of new graduate talent, as well as 150 graduates in the UK that have been in employment for 3-24 months.

Perception gap
The research shows that a big perception gap exists between businesses and graduates when it comes to people skills. While almost all businesses believe that strong people skills are important, with 93% saying they deliver commercial impact, more than half (51%) of graduates actually think people skills get in the way of getting ‘the job done’. Seven out of ten graduates believe they ‘just need to be good at their job’ and 61% believe that technical skills are more important than people skills on the work floor. 

Hay Group, UK people skills research

As a result of the perception gap, recruiting graduates with people skills turns out to be a challenge for UK businesses, with 90% saying that fewer than half of graduate applicants have sufficient people skills for the roles they are applying for and 77% admitting to have employed graduates without the necessary skills due to a lack of choice.

Commenting on these results, David Smith, Consultant at Hay Group, says: “It’s not that today’s graduates lack potential. In fact, psychometric assessment specialist Talent Q analysed data of over 40,000 employees worldwide and found that graduates have as much potential as senior managers for self-awareness, self-control and teamwork, and more potential for empathy. This potential needs to be realised, however. It’s now down to organisations to recruit and develop graduates in the right way, so they appreciate the role these ‘softer’ skills play in their own development and the value they offer to the business.”

Nurture people skills

Business implications
In the research, the firm explores the business implications of the people skills gap, with increased recruitment costs, compromised future leadership and staff development seen as pressing issues.

  • Recruitment costs: As the average cost for on-boarding per graduate is between £500-1000 and as 77% businesses feel that graduates are not ready for the job, many businesses risk wasted investment in recruitment processes and high staff turnover
  • Future leadership: Almost all (91%) of those in charge of graduate recruitment and development feel that graduates with less than good people skills will not be successful future leaders, with 77% currently worried for the future of leadership in their business.
  • People development: A divide exists between graduate expectations around promotions and the reality, with 89% of businesses saying that poor people skills hold graduates’ progression back; while 68% of graduates think they will be promoted regardless of their people skills.

To address the imbalance in people skills, 91% of businesses surveyed saying they provide adequate training to develop the people skills of graduates, with 83% spending more time on training graduates on teamwork than on technical skills. “It’s also about making the process as seamless for the employee and business as possible. Today there are tools such as smartphone applications and personality self-assessments to help organisations engage and develop graduates, to assist them with their own progression and job satisfaction, and to enable them to meet and exceed business leaders’ expectations,” concludes Smith. 

Hay Group’s Journey
To help businesses develop and nurture the needed skills, Hay Group launched its own app that helps graduates develop their emotional & social skills, its so-called Journey app.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.