Global business optimism has hit an all-time high, according to the second quarter International Business Report by Grant Thornton. Globally, business optimism was 51%; in the U.S., it was 81%. The confidence is due in large part to strong revenue and profit expectations.

But another metric hit an all-time high, as well: the percentage of businesses who identify a lack of skilled workers as a constraint. That number rose to 35% – just over one in three businesses report being constrained by a lack of talent. It’s a challenge that has been making headlines for a while now and spans all types of jobs, from manufacturing to IT, and all skill levels.

“One in three businesses report being constrained by a lack of talent.” – Click to tweet

According to the report, “Skills shortages are increasingly growing as a long-term issue businesses must address…longer-term, businesses will need to look at training programs to boost skills among existing workers, and even working more closely with education institutions to ensure the right skills are being taught at an early age.”

Help Wanted: The right skills

What are the ‘right’ skills? It depends on the job, of course, but increasing evidence suggests that it is not technical know-how. In a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92% of respondents said soft skills were equally as or more important than technical skills. According to another study by LinkedIn, the skills most sought-after by employers include:

  1. Communication
  2. Organization
  3. Teamwork
  4. Punctuality
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Social skills
  7. Creativity
  8. Interpersonal communication
  9. Adaptability
  10. Having a friendly personality

“The most sought-after skills by employers are all soft skills, like communication, problem solving, and creativity.” – Click to tweet

LinkedIn’s list is strikingly similar to the top 10 skills identified by the World Economic Forum in its Future of Jobs report:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Soft Skills University

So a gap between the skills required for a job and the skills job candidates have is a key risk for businesses. And the skills that employers are looking for are predominantly soft skills, rather than technical know-how. So that begs the question: where’s the school students can go to learn those soft skills?

That, perhaps, is the root of the problem. Education institutions, at all levels, have historically been much better at teaching know-how than cultivating those soft skills. But it’s not unsolvable.  

At Thunderbird, everything we do is about cultivating global leaders. We teach the know-how, to be sure, but our emphasis has always been on the soft skills that underpin all know-how. It’s why we have a “collaborate to graduate” model, where students have to learn to work together – including across cultural divides – in order to succeed. It’s great preparation for the real world of global business.

The importance of soft skills is why Thunderbird's faculty members members continue to work in industry. They’re keeping their fingers on the pulse of global business, putting to work skills like complex problem solving and coordinating with others – and bringing those lessons back to the classroom.

And Thunderbird has a great track record of teaching soft skills. Thunderbird's Global Mindset Inventory tool, for instance, helps individuals and organizations develop their global mindset, which is a defined set of qualities and attributes that help a manager influence individuals, groups, and organizations who are from other parts of the world. It’s essential in a world in which companies report that a lack of global leaders at all levels is constraining their global expansion plans.

“There are education models for teaching soft skills alongside technical know-how.” – Click to tweet

Thunderbird solutions

The importance of soft skills in global business success is exactly the reason Thunderbird runs courses for individuals, including programs like Global Mindset for Strategic Leadership. It’s why we teach courses like Succeeding through Failure and Leading Diverse Teams for Collaborative Results – all those soft skills that are essential for thriving in global business.

So there are education models for teaching soft skills alongside technical know-how. Young people looking for a future in global business can jump-start their careers by seeking out those kinds of educational opportunities. Current employees can stay relevant by continuing education throughout their careers. (As Deloitte’s Josh Bersin put it: “Professionals at all levels know that their skills directly contribute to their earning power – or, as we like to say, ‘the learning curve is the earning curve.’”)

And businesses have an incredible opportunity to gain competitive advantage by training current employees in those “missing” soft skills. Talent will probably become, if it isn’t already, the #1 source of competitive advantage – for companies, and countries too.

 Join the discussion! How have you developed your own soft skills? How have you used them to succeed on the job? Share your stories on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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