In the past century, most jobs required workers to focus on and apply a single well-defined skill-set in a relatively static and predictable way. Currently, and in the future, workers are going to need additional soft skills to improve their flexibility in the workplace.


This is particularly important for startups and small businesses, where individual employees often have a much wider and mercurial range of responsibilities, many of which they won’t be well prepared for when they’re first hired. Unfortunately, workers that have these soft skills are in short supply, and fresh graduates entering the workforce often aren’t specifically taught to develop these skills during their education. To prepare for a future where such candidates will be much harder to attract, small businesses need to act now.

Soft skills are the future of work

According to a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics report, 63 per cent of jobs at every level in the global economy are expected to be “soft skills intensive”. Specifically, employers are increasingly looking for workers with excellent communication, critical thinking, and problem solving skills as well as an openness to change, teamwork, and general flexibility.

Particularly among larger businesses, jobs that don’t require these skills will increasingly become obsolete, and be outsourced to technological solutions. In smaller enterprises, these skills are often already a necessity. Small and growing companies simply can’t function with teams that don’t have the flexibility to handle a constantly changing environment, and who lack the communication skills to appropriately manage and negotiate those changes in individual roles and responsibilities.

SMEs need to be prepared for a skills shortage

Even as the demands of the global job market change, baby boomers are reaching their retirement age. Because of the relative size of this generation, their departure from the workforce is likely to lead to a widespread skills shortage in many western countries. In the UK, this is already an issue, largely kicked off by the looming threat of Brexit, along with very high rates of foreign investment. This has resulted in UK businesses having plenty of capital to work with, but lacking access to the labour resources they need because of depressed immigration rates.

A general skills shortage, combined with an increased demand for skilled workers with additional soft skills suggests difficult times ahead for businesses trying to attract the talent they need to succeed. Small businesses in the UK, and all over the western world, need to strategize now to manage the issue proactively to avoid potentially serious difficulties later on.

Businesses should provide training in soft skills

Because professional interpersonal communication or problem solving skills aren’t taught at university, we largely treat them as though they were something that can’t be taught. This is a big mistake. Businesses can benefit greatly by taking an active role in the development of their employees’ development. Coaching employees on how to respond to unexpected changes, how to communicate effectively, and how to address their own shortcomings can vastly improve how well your team functions as a whole, and how well it can adapt to growth and other types of change.

Building the right kind of company culture

During the years needed for the labour market to adapt to these new demands, businesses will have a hard time getting the talent they need. While it’s certainly possible to teach employees the skills they need, you’ll first need leaders in your organisation who can teach them, and who practise them on a daily basis. Not only do these employees constitute an important resource, they also help to shape a company culture that naturally encourages the development of important soft skills.

New employees who enter into a work environment where excellent communications skills, critical thinking, and proactive problem solving are expected and applied as a matter of course will find ways to adapt. More importantly, they’ll see soft skills applied all around them every day. This is important, because it helps to bring the training they receive out of the abstract environment of a lecture-type setting, and makes it clearly applicable in everyday life. This makes it much easier for them to practise and apply new skills to improve their effectiveness in the workplace.

While larger businesses may be able to compensate for the dearth in talent by raising wages or providing specific benefits, small businesses mostly lack the resources to compete in this way. Because of this, it’s important to be aware of this emerging scarcity, and to work to compensate early. SMEs who are successful in developing the talent they need in-house won’t just directly benefit from a better-functioning workforce, they’ll also have a significant competitive advantage over other businesses who will be scrambling for increasingly scarce talent in the coming years.