Should employers prioritise soft skills over technical abilities?

‘Technical skills are less relevant because the market is changing so fast’

Should employers prioritise soft skills over technical abilities?

Organisations should reconsider their bias against mature and inexperienced workers if they want to succeed long-term, according to the CEO of OneHQ, Hamish McLachland.

With technically skilled labourers becoming harder to come by, employers must adjust their expectations of finding the best in class and instead give thought to softer skills such as “attitude, teachability and personality”, McLachland added.

His advice is especially significant given immigration issues threaten to prohibit the number of skilled labourers to New Zealand.

McLachland said that while technical skills are highly important in roles such as medicine and law, other sectors can benefit by prioritising softer skills over technical abilities in order to compete in today’s tight market.

“Technical skills are less relevant because the market is changing so fast,” he said.

“The value of someone on the phone who can communicate really well with a client or supplier changes the whole relationship. If you’ve got a bubbly person in the office, someone that really loves talking with everyone, it lifts the whole feel of the office.”

When people with positive personalities are employed, the whole organisation is affected – not just the other employees.

“The office is more upbeat; people are more productive, and people engage with each other more,” said McLachland.

“I think often, it’s too easy for people to get caught up in what they’re doing. If they get out and talk to their colleagues, people will learn new things, get different ideas and be more productive because they’re more energised.”

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McLachland explained that in order to deal with labour shortages and an ageing population, employers must let go of certain stigmas, particularly around those older or inexperienced workers who may not have the technical skills, and spend more time teaching them instead.

“The experience of our workforce becomes more valuable than the technology if we give the time and effort to show people how to leverage it,” he said.

“It’s sometimes too easy to throw out the old and try and bring in someone new with the right technical skills, but often that doesn’t deliver the right outcome.”

With the ever-changing workforce, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find potential employees who already have the technical knowledge, experience and abilities.

Consequently, organisations need to be less picky with older people and the less experienced.

“It’s easy to view that today, ‘You’re older and you don’t know this technology and that means you’re redundant’,” he said.

“I think it could perhaps be thought of the other way around, as long as that individual is proactive and has the right attitude, then they’re very valuable in a business.”

Investing in people who have come from different sectors who have different traits and a different skillset is also something that businesses should consider when looking to hire new employees, McLachland added.

“There have been great hires that have come out of other sectors, if they have good traits, they can be trained on the technical skills.”

With the growing multicultural society in Auckland, being more open to having employees of different cultures and ethnicities is also something that can be of value to a company amid immigration issues.

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“Having a few traits from different cultures is really valuable as you don’t get too much of one thing,” said McLachland.

“New Zealand is quite an isolated country, so sometimes new people to New Zealand can bring a different perspective that can really help the business.”

In particular, employers need to start thinking about how they could do things differently from what traditional recruitment strategies might have been.

“There is still a strong need for people in all industries, I don’t think technology is going to take the role of people away,” said McLachland.

“If someone has a good attitude and a willingness to learn, I would choose that any day over someone with loads of experience and not enough personality.”

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