Opinion: Did Hard Skills Just Become Twice as Valuable as Soft Skills?
Let’s talk about it.
There’s a good chance we’re currently staring down an economic recession as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the global economy. For many, this brings fear and anxiety about our financial wellbeing. And for those in the corporate workforce, how we stack up against other employees.
What makes an employee more valuable than others? What kind of skills can put you ahead? How can you sell your value to management? Which is more important, soft skills or hard skills?
In this article, I want to explore how your skills can affect your ability to maintain a job throughout an economic downturn.
Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?
If you haven’t heard of the phrase “soft skills” or “hard skills” before, it’s probably something you should be aware of. Especially those looking to work in upper management in the future.
What are Hard Skills?
Hard skills are actionable, teachable skills that you possess enabling you to complete certain tasks. They are typically measurable in nature.
Common examples of hard skills are writing, reading, math, and the ability to use computer programs, but there are millions more.
In short, if a skill you possess enables you to complete a task, that is a hard skill.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills, on the other hand, are not typically measurable.
Skills like leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence are all examples of soft skills.
These skills are extremely valuable, especially for those working a management position but they can be more difficult to obtain and prove.
Skills and Recessions
Throughout a recession, there’s no doubt that certain skills become more valuable than others. So how does this relate to hard and soft skills? Let’s find out.
Hiring & Layoffs During Recessions
Like previously mentioned, some industries and professions will perform better than others when faced with an economic downturn. Healthcare, education, and other public jobs will typically maintain, if not expand, during a recession. While construction, retail, and manufacturing often stumble.
In a poll conducted by SHRM, almost 50 executive-level HR leaders gave their thoughts on how their business is responding to an economic downturn.
In the poll, 55% of respondents used layoffs and downsizing to combat a recession to maintain financial stability.
42% of respondents reduced top-talent recruiting – think those with a larger amount of soft skills.
76% of respondents indicated that their business has expanded initiatives to help employees sharpen their business skills.
So what are the takeaways?
We know that many businesses will use layoffs, downsizing, and hiring freezes to combat a recession. For those hiring, they may not be searching for the absolute best talent, instead, many will lean toward less expensive options. In addition, many companies will work to develop employee skills.
From this, we can infer that businesses want employees to obtain more skills. They also aren’t necessarily looking for the best of the best. They want as much work to be completed at a reasonable rate.
While most every business is looking to grow, businesses change during a recession. You’ll find that many companies want to minimize risk while holding profits steady. This means less capital expenditure (Cap Ex), which comes in many forms, including employee acquisition.
What’s More Valuable? My Thoughts
We know that having a strong mix of both hard and soft skills can set yourself apart from others during a recession, but which is more valuable?
Those who are capable of completing tasks become more valuable throughout a recession.
While managers are extremely important, managing employees might become slightly less valuable for several reasons:
- There may not be as many employees to manage due to layoffs
- Upper management has the possibility to manage subordinates directly, eliminating the need for mid-level management.
Employees that are directly tied to the businesses' performance and generate income are the least likely to get laid off.
For example, those in sales might not be immediately laid off because their goal is to bring in new business and revenue. On the other hand, those working as an entry-level marketer might be more susceptible to layoffs because their work isn’t necessarily directly tied to revenues for the business.
Employees that are deemed “essential” are less likely to get laid off.
So what does this mean?
While it’s not always tied to hard vs soft skills, maintaining your job is more importantly tied to the amount and importance of your work.
Methods to Increase Your Skillset
With today's technology, there are virtually no excuses not to develop more skills, both hard and soft.
Online courses have grown in popularity over the years. With the rise in educational websites like LinkedIn Learning, MasterClass, and Udemy, learning through online courses has never been easier.
You can choose to learn just about any skills from coding to graphic design or videography.
These courses are often reasonably priced, as well. LinkedIn Learning charges a monthly fee to access their library of courses while others may charger per course.
Similar to online courses, the explosion of YouTube has granted creators the ability to teach others with ease. If you’re attended college, you probably know the value of what you can find on YouTube. From helping you with your calculus homework to learning the basics of Python, using videos is a great way to learn a new skill.
Videos are one of the most affordable ways to learn new skills because they’re free!
Books and Blogs
While books are a more traditional learning format, there’s a reason they’re still around.
They work. Learning from books and blogs can give you in-depth knowledge of many subjects.
You can find books written on just about any skill. Think of the “For Dummies” series. They have developed a system of teaching for many different skills.
Many soft skills cannot be taught and are only acquired with experience. These skills will develop over time. Try to put yourself in situations during which you must use your skills to grow.
For example, if you struggle with public speaking, consider putting together a presentation for your colleagues to improve these skills.
One of the most common methods for gaining skills is by furthering your education.
College or graduate schooling can be extremely costly (both money and time), so you’ll want to examine if it makes sense for your position.
Knowing and Increasing Your Value
If you’re working for a company, you’re most likely paid for the value you produce. Do you know what that might be?
The value you produce varies based on the job you work.
For example, at my current job, I manage the digital marketing activities throughout the company. One of my primary duties is attracting new leads so that our sales team can make contact and better our chances of landing a new sale.
This is a great example of the value I provide to the company I work for, maximizing the number of leads we acquire.
If you’re an accountant, you might be responsible for processing customer receivables. in this case, your value is being able to effectively organize customer payments while keeping accurate records for bookkeeping.
Increasing Your Value
Now that you know your value, you might be wondering ways in which you can increase it, making you worth more to your company.
Going back to the previous examples, in my digital marketing job, I have learned to code websites over the years. This gives me the ability to make changes to the company website, something that can provide additional value for the business.
For an accountant, you might learn the billing side of accounting so that you could process vendor payments. This would allow you to complete more tasks if needed, increasing your value.
Some other methods of increasing your value:
- Asking for additional responsibilities
- Becoming more efficient, enabling you to complete more tasks
- Learning new skills, both hard and soft
- Learning about other departments within the business
Selling Your Value
If your value isn’t known, is it really your value? I don’t believe so.
You need to be capable of selling your value to your superiors to increase your chances or promotion or keeping your job during tough times.
You don’t need to be a sleazy used car salesman though. Some basic techniques can be enough to communicate and maximize your value to management.
Use Numbers As Much as Possible
There’s a reason many hiring managers will encourage you to use as many numbers as you can on your resume. This is a way to prove the value you have created.
For someone in digital marketing, you might use a number attached to ROAS, or return on ad spend, to prove your value.
An example might look like this, “Boosted ROAS by 23% using multivariate testing and eliminating underperforming channels.”
By using numbers, you can easily communicate your value to others.
Attach Accomplishments to Others
If you’re working in a management role, anything that those under you accomplish is partly your work. You can use these to prove your value as well.
For example, if one of your colleagues was able to reduce the amount of time spent processing vendor payments by X percent, this would be a great way to increase your own value. Perhaps you were able to teach them that method or encouraged them to explore new ways of performing the same task to maximize efficiency.
Communicate Any Non-Monetary Value
Not all jobs will have a dollar amount they can attach their work to.
Graphic designers, for example, might have a slightly more difficult time proving their value over other positions.
Suppose you created a new asset for a homepage design that spiked your click-through rate by 13%. While this might not be directly tied to a dollar amount, at the end of the road, it is.
It’s okay to stretch and reach (to an extent)!
One of the most common professions where value might be difficult to express is Human Resources, but you should still do it!
Reducing friction among colleagues, boosting employee happiness, and increasing employee retention are all great options to prove your value.
Conclusion: What Skills Are You Developing?
Hard skills matter. Soft skills matter. And if you feel at risk of a pay cut or layoff, you should do everything possible to start developing them. Having a combination of both hard and soft skills can help to better your chances of maintaining a job in the midst of an economic downturn.
Throughout a recession, those with revenue-generating positions are less likely to be laid off than those whose work might not be directly related to the business's income.
I encourage you to analyze your position. Are you completing work that is tied to revenue generation for the company? If not, what value are you providing? Is there a way you could offer more value to your employer?
Not sure what skills you should learn? Check out this post about the best skills to boost your income.
What skills do you think become more valuable throughout a recession? Comment below!