Five soft skills to future-proof your people

soft skills

Thinking outside the box is arguably more crucial than ever.

Managing director of training company Innovate Learn speaks with Manufacturers’ Monthly about five important soft skills of employees to succeed.

If the last year has taught the manufacturing sector anything, it’s that there is no such thing as “certainty”. Australia can no longer rely on global supply chains – it’s time to bring manufacturing home.  

With reshoring in the spotlight, employers are increasingly looking inward and re-evaluating the capabilities of their local employees. “When Australia went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and businesses had to adjust their business models, many in leadership roles had to think long and hard about where their teams were excelling – and where they were failing,” explains Hazel Stewart, managing director of Melbourne based training company Innovate Learn. 

soft skills
Innovate Learn managing director, Hazel Stewart.

Stewart shares that while this was a valuable chance for employers to measure how well their employees executed their tasks, many leaders focused purely on technical skills. They neglected to evaluate their employees’ “soft skills” – the character traits and interpersonal skills that help to define their relationships with other people.  

“This is an understandable oversight as manufacturing is traditionally a highly technical sector, with emphasis placed on product and processes,” says Stewart. “However, there are five soft skills in particular that, if continually neglected, could cause a business to fall behind its competitors, or in extreme cases, be the root cause of its failure.”  

Stewart spoke to Manufacturers’ Monthly about these crucial soft skills.   

1. Communication

Working in silos is a common challenge faced by businesses today. While it is ideal for everyone in a company to share a common goal, the bureaucratic systems, procedures and micro-cultures within departments can lead to a lack of communication, slower sales or production cycles, miscommunication, and even the loss of a sale or a potential partnership.  

“If your employees seem constantly out of sync with each other and it feels as if directions are consistently not followed correctly, there’s a high chance that the fault lies in a communication breakdown,” says Stewart. 

She recommends speaking with each team member individually to identify which missing skills might be leading to the communication breakdown, such as a lack of confidence in expressing oneself or the inability to correctly interpret another person’s message. “Once the gaps have been identified you can begin to build these skills.” 

2. Listening

“Believe it or not, effective communication is often more about the ability to listen than it is about the ability to talk,” says Stewart. “ ‘Active’ listening – has become even more important since virtual meetings have become the norm – things can very easily get lost in translation.”  

Training employees to actively listen means giving the speaker their undivided attention to uncover the subtext of what they are saying. In cases of virtual communication, this can help employees to overcome the challenges of not being able to read body language or establish clear eye contact during virtual meetings. “Active listening allows you to not only take in what was being said but also why (and how) it was being said,” says Stewart. 

3. Problem-solving

This is another skill that is important for businesses to keep absolutely front of mind. The ability to quickly devise solutions and think outside the box is arguably more crucial than ever in business today.  Customers have expectations that their business issues will be heard, understood and actioned by employees at all levels – from the manufacturing plant to the C-Suite.  

“The key to strengthening your employees’ problem-solving skills begins with a perspective change – start viewing unexpected challenges as learning opportunities, rather than obstacles you need to get past as quickly as possible,” she says.  

“Regularly devise hypothetical problem-solving scenarios so that employees can learn and improve on their skills. Think of problem-solving as a muscle that needs to be regularly stretched.” If mistakes are made in the problem-solving process, Hazel adds that it is important for employees to discuss why they made the mistake and what they learned from the process while it is still fresh in their minds. 

4. Adaptability

In these highly unpredictable times, manufacturing businesses might be required to make rapid, drastic decisions to continue operations and remain competitive – they need to be resilient and adaptable. In order to do this, a company needs employees who are similarly able to adapt and shift gears as needed.  

“Train your employees to not only expect but embrace uncertainty, and reward them when they perform tasks that may be outside their usual scope of work but are needed in the instance of unexpected challenges,” says Stewart. “Building your employees adaptability skills will improve their overall performance, as well as their confidence.” 

5. Culture

Company culture refers to the shared values, attributes, and characteristics of an organisation, reflected by the attitudes and behaviours of its employees.  

“Culture influences every action a team member makes, from the way they interact with one another to their decision-making process,” says Stewart. “A strong company culture needs to be deliberately cultivated by an organisation’s leadership.” 

Each of the previous soft skills discussed: communication, listening, problem-solving and adaptability influence overall company culture. If any manufacturing employer need further convincing of the importance of strengthening these skills and capabilities, research has shown that a strong company culture leads to higher revenue,” she says. 

Finally, Hazel emphasises that when this is firmly in place, employees understand the expected outcomes and behaviours and act accordingly, and every aspect of the business is improved. 

About Innovate Learn

Innovate Learn is an Australian company based in Melbourne, offering a unique combination of local expertise and research-based Best Practice solutions from Wilson Learning Worldwide. Innovate Learn brings 20+ years of business experience across a wide range of industries.  The company provides targeted solutions that support strategic initiatives, create a productive and engaging work culture, and drive business outcomes. Programs are supported by best practice facilitation and coaching services. 

For more information please visit www.innovatelearn.com.au  

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