Employers frequently express concern about the lack of soft skills that school leavers and university graduates possess, and the training that the business has to undertake to upskill and mentor their new employees.

Soft skills are primarily founded on the ability to understand and interact positively within the environment employees are based. As this environment is currently changing, these skills are valued more than ever. As automation is applied to an ever-increasing number of tasks, companies can no longer base their competitive advantage on their ability to carry out the tasks correctly. Their real wealth will come from your people who make up the work teams, who are able to anticipate their customers’ requests in order to offer services and products in line with their expectations.

Some employers find it hard to understand why these skills are not evident, why they have not been learned whilst at school or college. Employers are becoming increasingly dismayed when new starters who look great on paper end up performing poorly on the job. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit has further highlighted the importance of soft skills to employers.

Employers are increasingly considering a candidate’s soft skills as closely as their experience and explicit technical specialties. For some workers, soft skills are innate – personality traits that make someone a naturally good communicator or analytical thinker. But for others, developing and honing soft skills can be more challenging. Yet it is possible for every worker to develop and improve these characteristics as well as learn how to show them off.

One of the best ways to help employees develop soft skills is by actively engaging in Lean

Thinking initiatives. Lean Thinking is about creating the most value for the customer at the minimum cost, which is achieved by minimising resources, time, energy, and effort. The employees who participate in these company initiatives gain valuable experience in team building activities which promote many soft skills including:

1. Problem Solving Skills – the ability to determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue. Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, determining the root causes, producing viable solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness.

2. Communication Skills – the ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important of all work, and life-skills. It is what enables us to pass information to other people, and to understand what is said to us.

3. Business Analysis Skills – the ability to measure, analyse and report data trends, and be able to share that information with others and apply the findings to resolve business issues.

4. Time Management Skills – the ability to use your time productively and efficiently and to complete tasks on time and within budget constraints.

1. Organisational Skills – the abilities that let you stay focused on different tasks, and use your time, energy, strength, mental capacity, physical space effectively and efficiently in order to achieve the desired outcome.

2. Planning Skills – the ability to think about and successfully manage activities, with the help of any available resources and to achieve specific goals. Planning is a roadmap that guides you to complete a set of tasks before you start a project.

3. Risk Management Skills – being aware of what could go wrong at any time, deciding if these risks can be managed or how they would affect the business, and finally taking action to avoid either the problem or its consequences.

4. Leadership Skills – are the strengths and abilities individuals demonstrate that help to oversee processes, guide initiatives, and steer your fellow employees toward the achievement of the desired goals.

The principles of Lean Thinking may have its roots in car factories in Japan, but today it has come to represent an alternative, superior approach to doing work – no matter what the work is, the sector or the size of the organisation. In a Lean Thinking organisation, problems are opportunities for meaningful learning rather than mistakes to be swept under the carpet or quickly resolved. Managers act as coaches, helping others be comfortable identifying problems and practicing daily continuous improvement.

Therefore, it is important that when companies create workforce development plans that they consider what soft skills are required to carry out a job and ensure equal priority is given to this area of development as is technical or engineering skills. A well-balanced training plan needs both.