May 7, 2009

Soft Skills in Hard Times? NO WAY!

This is an article written by Roman Battan, a co-worker of mine at Convergence Training. If you would like to contact Roman directly, he can be emailed at: or give him a call at 360-834-0991 x241.


Over the past few months, I’ve read numerous articles about the importance of soft-skills training for leadership and interpersonal relationships. Not surprising, almost all of these so-called ‘articles’ have been written by soft-skills training companies and consultants bragging about how they trained office workers on listening, become better leaders, and blah blah blah… After a while, I began to realize that they’re all just a bunch of sales pitches disguised behind good feelings.

So…let’s get this part out of the way now then shall we?

Soft-skills = Emotional intelligence to handle interpersonal relationships
Hard-skills = Technical knowledge and ability to perform specific tasks

Here are some real questions to think about:
• What the heck happened to the emphasis on Hard-skills training?!
• What happened to training people to do a job?
• Who handles transferring technical knowledge from older employees to new employees as the national workforce continues to turn over?

Keep reading and I’ll tell you.

Out with the Old in with the New

In today’s economic downturn, manufacturing companies are hemorrhaging money and it is not because office employees aren’t motivating their teams well enough. The problem is that an increasing number of experienced machine operators are leaving the workforce and new employees don’t know how to make products and/or keep their machines running consistently. You can forget about Swine Flu because this is the real pandemic!!

Manufacturing firms are working vigorously to reduce their expenses in an effort to offset slumping sales revenues. Many are making major cost cutting efforts by offering older ‘baby boomer’ employees incentive packages and signing bonuses to retire early. On the surface, this approach seems like a logical step to reduce costs but this is usually where the baby goes out with the bathwater.

Precipitously shedding older employees and replacing them with new workers offers a temporary reprieve on the balance sheet, but almost always comes back to bite companies in the proverbial backside. Younger workers seem appealing because they are new and highly motivated, but they also have less experience which contributes directly to increased downtimes, poor or inconsistent product quality, and increased workplace injuries.

The short-term benefit of replacing aging employees with new or inexperienced employees typically turns into a zero or negative net gain if not managed properly. This is not to say that new employees are bad for business. However, it does indicate that a plan to transition new workers in and older workers out of the workforce plays an essential role in minimizing short-term losses and maximizing long-term gains. In fact, if new employees are well trained and given the right knowledge and skills they are likely to be more motivated and effective over time than retiring workers.

This is where the challenge shifts from reducing wage expenses to committing the right amount of internal or external resources to train your new workforce.

Soft-Skills vs. Hard-Skills

Soft-skills will not solve the problem of rapid knowledge loss and the lack of knowledge transfer to the incoming workforce. If you’re relying on interpersonal relationship skills to build, warehouse, and ship your products, then my friends, it’s time to do yourselves a favor and close the doors now. Aside from making your employees feel better about losing their jobs, you will only be prolonging the financial losses your company will incur.

The fact is your workforce needs technical knowledge and that can only be gained through hard-skills training. This means learning how to handle raw materials, operate machines, and convert various components into saleable goods. It seems pretty straight forward doesn’t it? Just grab Joe or Jane supervisor and have them throw together a quick classroom activity with a few PowerPoint presentations right? Wrong! Unfortunately it’s just not that easy.

Hard-skills are more involved than soft-skills training because they are based on real actions and real outcomes and less on theory and feelings. Training employees on a company’s specific process not only requires a true knowledge of the work at hand, but also good instructional design to be effective. Without those two critical components you may as well continue teaching employees Soft-skills to be friendly instead of Hard-skills to build your goods and services.

Next month, Roman will be discussing the decision on allocating internal vs. external resources to build training.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave me a comment! Thanks,