The importance of soft skills in the digital age

All of us spend years attending school, university and then pursuing further education with the purpose of deepening our knowledge pool. As we pursue formal education, we’re taught many different subjects and courses that help us develop our skills.

We develop both hard and soft skills from a young age. Hard skills are learned skills that are specific and can be measured. On the other hand, soft skills cannot be easily measured as they are closely tied to personality.

The focus, however, is more on the hard skills. If you take a look at job ads, what employers specify are usually hard skills, most of them obtained from formal education. But these hard skills are not the only ingredients in a recipe for success.

Many educational institutions these days realize that people need to be more well-rounded and are offering subjects and courses to also build soft skills. Those skills include leadership, presentation, negotiation, innovation and so on.

The fact is, many hard skills are now under threat from advancements in technology. Artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning are taking over all types of jobs. Skills such as data entry, email marketing, and data analysis can now be automated, to name only a few.

But here’s the thing – all those machines are not yet advanced enough or to replicate many other human abilities, and those abilities include human emotions and how to respond to them. Here are some points to remember about soft skills to help you understand their growing importance.

First, soft skills have always been important, even if they don’t receive as much attention as hard skills, but they are growing more important as technology takes over tasks and replaces humans in many activities.

In a way, what we are seeing now is not very different from what we saw back in the early 1900s when Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line for mass production. Back then, the skills required were speed and specialization in a single task. Still, all those tasks were performed by humans, and those humans had to be motivated and managed, which called for certain soft skills.

The second important point is that soft skills are not as “soft” as you may think. People have this notion that it takes “hard-hitting” skills to win in this world.

Soft skills, also known as people skills, relate to a person’s emotional intelligence or quotient (EI or EQ). While many see their importance, they are still not as heavily prioritized as they could be.

Think back to when you were in school. Ever since those days, the priorities have always been developing your hard skills. Entering work life, skills such as computer literacy, marketing, language proficiency, and a degree have been top requirements for employers.

Those skills are still very important. But, no matter how good you are in those skills, you cannot begin to grow in your career or business if you don’t have the soft skills – leadership, complex problem-solving ability, creativity, work ethic, and so on.

Again, given the growing abilities of AI and machines, what many of us need to cultivate today is not the skills we gain through reading or study but the skills we gain through experience.

The third point to keep in mind is that when you develop your skills, focus on both. Soft skills may be growing in importance but hard skills are still the basis of your job and career.

Look at it this way: Hard skills help you get the job done faster, while soft skills are what helps you get the job done better. You need both in order to excel, but more importantly, you need both so you cannot be as easily replaced by a machine.

In sum, technology is pushing us all to change and adapt. Throughout all previous industrial revolutions, our predecessors had no choice but to learn, adapt and change or get left behind. In the same way today, we need to stop thinking of “soft skills” as some kind of add-on and instead include them on our list of essentials for job and career success.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa