Skills Profile

By July 28, 2018 March 28th, 2020 Reports

Summary

Soft skills1 are a set of skills and abilities that employees can use in various types of work, with multiple employers, throughout their careers. They are also skills that can be developed and practiced outside the workplace, as individuals prepare to enter or re-enter employment. Many workplace skills are industry-specific and/or job-specific, while soft skills are those that add value to any job, regardless of the particular industry or occupation. Soft skills and transferrable skills are often used interchangeably. However, transferrable skills may also include technical or hard skills that can provide value in more than one workplace. Examples might include: proficiency in computer software programs, fluency in a foreign language, or the ability to use a particular piece of equipment or machinery. Transferrable skills, therefore, are often a combination of both soft and hard skills that can be transferred from one work environment to the next. For the purposes of the current project, the term soft skills will be used exclusively, so as to exclude the hard skills that are often found under the umbrella of transferrable workplace skills. This project seeks to explore skills that are independent of industry or technical knowledge.

Popular online job sites frequently publish articles highlighting the importance of soft skills for interviews and job preparation, as well as for ongoing employability success.2 Several research studies support the idea that soft skills are, not just important, but potentially more important than hard and technical skills in the workplace.3 4 A 2018 study by Burning Glass Technologies summarized the widespread need for soft skills as follows: “A number of [soft] skills are emphasized in the postings out of proportion to what traditional job definitions would indicate—suggesting that employers struggle to find people with these skills.”1 This overemphasis of soft skills in job postings highlights the critical need to educate job seekers (and current employees) about evaluating and developing these skills needed for workplace success.

Business executives often identify soft skills as the most important factors, not only for hiring, but also for long-term employee success and promotion opportunities. Hiring managers and Human Resources professionals are even receiving training on how to ask interview questions that might reveal soft skills competencies or lack thereof.2 In a recent report produced by the Royal Bank of Canada, in which 54 Canadian employers (collectively representing one million employees) were surveyed about their workplace needs and experiences, “nearly four in ten employers [reported] changing their recruitment policies to reflect the need for. . . .soft skills.”3

The rise in research surrounding social and emotional intelligence and their role in personal and professional success4 has also led to increased interest in the importance of soft skills in the workplace. Soft skills have been shown to be important to both entry-level and mid-career positions, as well as significant components of effective leadership and management. As such, a focus on how soft skills are being presented in job postings and their importance to employers can assist job seekers and employees as they move to different jobs throughout their careers.

Although the term soft skills has one of its earliest mentions in American army training where the term was used to describe skills that were non-technical yet were broadly related to employability and success, the term became commonly used in educational 5 and workplace research in the 1990’s and 2000’s.6

In more recent research, one of the most frequently cited definitions is: “skills, abilities and traits that pertain to personality, attitude, and behaviour, rather than to formal or technical knowledge.”7 It is important to note that what is included/excluded from this definition varies widely, both in research and in employers’ job postings. Additionally, cultural differences in the workplace (including generational differences) can lead to different interpretations and use of both the overarching term soft skills as well as the particular skills contained within this category.

This project focuses on the soft skills that are frequently mentioned in online job postings in the four county region (Bruce/Grey/Huron/Perth), and correlates this with the occupations within each of the top five industrial sectors that are most frequently posted online. The goal of this project is to identify the soft skills employers are highlighting in job postings for in-demand occupations in our area. This research will allow job seekers and community partners to connect key soft skills with in-demand jobs in our region.8

Given the vast and varied discussions around soft skills, the current project has the following research focuses. All data pertains specifically to the four county region (Bruce/Grey/Huron/Perth) unless otherwise indicated:

1. Top Soft Skills

  • Literature review and overview of key skills identified through local employer surveys
  • Identification of the top ten soft skills mentioned in online job postings in 20179
  • Definition and explanation of each soft skill as it relates to workplace success

2. Identification of the top five industrial sectors (by number of persons employed), and top three in-demand occupations (determined by the number of online job postings between 2014 and 2018)10 in each of these sectors

3. Correlation between soft skills and occupational categories

  • Description of the top in-demand occupations (by 4 digit NOC)11 in each industrial sector
Download the Skills Profile PDF

Top Soft Skills

In 2016, the Canadian Business Council conducted a survey12 of major private employers across the country to determine the top in-demand skills identified by business owners and industry leaders.

The following skills were identified as most important for entry-level positions:

  • Collaboration/teamwork skills
  • Communication skills
  • Functional knowledge*
  • Problem solving skills
  • People skills/relationship-building

The following skills were identified as most important for mid-level positions:

  • Leadership skills
  • People skills/relationship-building
  • Collaboration/teamwork skills
  • Industry-specific knowledge or experience*
  • Problem solving skills

With the exception of “functional knowledge” (top skill for entry-level positions) and “industry-specific knowledge or experience” (top skill for mid-level positions), each of the above-identified skills would be characterized as a soft skill, suggesting that business owners and managers are focusing on these skills in Canadian workplaces.

At a local level, the Planning Board’s annual EmployerOne survey13 continues to demonstrate that employers are valuing soft skills in the workplace and that, without them, employees are struggling to find and maintain successful

employment. One of the top reasons employers reported that positions were hard-to-fill in 2018 (reflecting hiring activity in 2017) was “lack of motivation, attitude, or interpersonal abilities.” 47% of responding employers reported this as one of the top three reasons they had difficulty filling positions. In contrast, only 31% of employers reported that “lack of technical abilities” (hard skills) was a key reason for not filling hard-to-fill positions.

Over the past four years, employers have consistently reported that soft skills are most in-demand for hard-to-fill positions, ranging from entry level jobs to professional occupations. “Work ethic, dedication, dependability” has been the most frequent response for each year of the survey (2015-2018); “self-motivated/ability to work with little or no supervision” and “teamwork, interpersonal abilities” have dominated the second and third most frequent responses. With the exception of “technical skills” which was reported in 2016, employers’ top three desired competencies have continued to focus on soft skills:

2015

  • Work ethic, dedication, dependability
  • Customer service
  • Teamwork, interpersonal abilities

2016

  • Work ethic, dedication, dependability
  • Self-motivated/ability to work with little supervision
  • Technical*

2017

  • Work ethic, dedication, dependability
  • Self-motivated/ability to work with little supervision
  • Teamwork/interpersonal abilities

2018

  • Work ethic, dedication, dependability
  • Self-motivated/ability to work with little supervision
  • Teamwork/interpersonal abilities

During our most recent survey in January 2018, the complete list of competencies employers required for hard-to-fill positions was as follows:14

Competency Percentage
Work ethic, dedication, dependability 63%
Self-motivated/ability to work with little or no supervision 42%
Teamwork/interpersonal abilities 37%
Technical* 32%
Customer service 29%
Communication 19%
Willingness to learn 17%
Problem solving, reasoning, creativity 16%
Professionalism 10%
Time management or organizational skills 9%
Analytical/research* 5%
Computer literacy* 5%

With the exception of “technical skills” (reported by 32% of respondents), employers are overwhelmingly reporting that soft skills are the most important workplace competencies. “Analytic/research” skills and “computer literacy” were each selected by less than 5% of respondents, placing them both at the bottom of the list of key competencies for hard-to-fill positions, as well as substantially lower in importance than “work ethic, dedication, dependability” which was ranked first and was selected by 63% of employers.

When looking at the frequency with which soft skills appear in online job postings between 2015 and 2017,15 there has been an increase in both the percentage of in-demand skills that are classified as soft skills, as well as an increase in the number of unique soft skills appearing regularly in online job postings.

Percentage of total skills listed in online job postings that were soft skills

Total number of different soft skills listed in online job postings

This increase in both the percentage of total skills that are categorized as soft skills, as well as an increase in the number of unique soft skills identified over the last three years, suggests that the value employers place on these skills is increasing over time.

At both a national and regional level, it is evident that soft skills are a priority for workplace success. For the purpose of this report, we will focus on the ten soft skills that appeared most frequently in online job postings in 2017. Given the frequency with which they were mentioned in local job postings, we can reasonably assume that these skills are in high demand.16

The top 10 soft skills mentioned in online job postings in 2017 were:

  • Detail oriented
  • Communication skills
  • Team player
  • Dependable
  • Customer service oriented
  • Integrity
  • Problem solving abilities
  • High energy
  • Ability to work independently
  • Organizational skills

Soft Skills Definitions

The above-mentioned soft skills can be defined as follows:

Detail Oriented

Detail oriented individuals pay careful attention to all aspects of a given task, ensuring that nothing is overlooked and that all components of the task are properly completed. Such individuals work through each project carefully and methodically.

Communication Skills:17

Communication skills (also referred to as interpersonal communication skills) typically include: the ability to share ideas clearly and effectively, good listening abilities, and nonverbal communication skills such as eye contact and body language.

Team Player

A good team player in the workplace is someone who listens to and engages with the ideas of others; someone who is capable of working with others to complete a task, and can effectively resolve interpersonal conflicts when they arise.

Dependability

Dependability refers to an employee’s ability to show up for work reliably and complete tasks consistently within a given timeframe. A dependable employee will not need to be repeatedly reminded about deadlines, and can be counted upon to complete assigned work.

Customer Service Oriented

Customer service oriented may refer to a cluster of attributes that ensure customer satisfaction. Among them: friendliness, helpfulness, positivity, and attentiveness to customers’ needs.

Integrity

Integrity means strong adherence to clear moral principles. In the workplace, an individual with integrity would be considered trustworthy, respected, and honest by his or her coworkers and supervisors.18

Problem Solving Abilities

The ability to solve workplace problems without constant support and direction is highly valued in the workplace. Individuals who can take initiative to determine possible solutions, can work with available resources to manage challenges when they occur, and can identify improvements or efficiencies are employees who thrive in any occupational setting. They are frequently employees who commit to finding a solution to any task, regardless of the time or work involved in achieving a positive outcome.

High Energy

Particularly in occupations involving human services and client relations, high energy employees have the ability to positively impact both clients and coworkers. Enthusiasm and positivity makes these individuals an asset to any workplace.

Ability to Work Independently

An individual who can work well independently is able to follow through and complete a task without constant supervision. These employees can take initiative and work without constant direction from supervisors. This is valued in the workplace because supervisors and coworkers need to know that someone is capable of completing the task without seeking direction or guidance at every step. This is important because supervisors need to be able to delegate work to their employees with the knowledge that it will be completed.

Organizational Skills

Organizational skills refer to an individual’s effective use of resources in the workplace. This includes both time management and task management skills.

Top Industrial Sectors and Occupational Categories

The top five sectors by employment for the Stratford-Bruce Peninsula Economic region are as follows:

Employment by Industry (Stratford-Bruce Peninsula)19

North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 2017
Wholesale and retail trade 22,200
Manufacturing 20,500
Health care and social assistance 16,500
Construction 15,900
Agriculture 11,900

Based on the number of online job postings between 2015 and 2017, the top in-demand occupations (listed by NOC code) within each of these sectors are as follows:

Wholesale and retail trade

  • Retail salespersons (6421)
  • Retail sales supervisors (6211)
  • Cashiers (6611)

Manufacturing

  • Other labourers in processing, manufacturing and utilities (9619)
  • Welders and related machine operators (7237)
  • Supervisors, electrical products manufacturing (9223)

Health care and social assistance

  • Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses (3012)
  • Social and community service workers (4212)
  • Nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates (3413)

Construction

  • Construction trades helpers and labourers (7611)
  • Carpenters (7271)
  • Contractors and supervisors, carpentry trades (7204)

Agriculture

  • General farm workers (8431)
  • Managers in agriculture (0821)
  • Agriculture service contractors (8252)