Why Are Soft Skills so Hard to Assess?

In an increasingly automated, data-driven world, it may come as a surprise that intrinsically human soft skills are driving the future of the workplace—at least according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report.

The report finds that 92% of hiring managers and talent professionals think soft skills are equally important, if not more important than hard skills. 80% think soft skills are increasingly essential to a company’s success, while 89% of “bad hires” are chalked up to employees possessing poor soft skills.

Though increasingly important, soft skills still remain fairly ambiguous, namely because they are difficult to measure. Out of the talent professionals interviewed, only 41% said their company had a formal assessment process for soft skills. 57% of respondents said they struggle to accurately assess soft skills, 68% said social cues in the interview process are the main method of assessment. Asking behavioral questions tops the list in how company’s test soft skills during the interview process, but answers to those questions can easily be rehearsed, meaning they’re not predictive or indicative of the candidate’s soft skill competency.

With a commitment to put a hard edge on soft skills, the Center for Third Space Thinking developed the testable ACE-IT framework to effectively evaluate soft skills proficiency in employees. Four years of in-depth, multi-method soft skills research led to the ACE-IT methodology, which stands for five core competencies critical for success in both the workplace and classroom, yet largely unrecognized and undersupplied: Adaptability, Cultural Competency, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity, and 360-Degree Thinking. Identifying these attributes was only the first step, as the Center has also developed a proprietary Third Space Thinking Assessment that can measure proficiency levels in each core attribute, helping both individuals and teams learn where there is room for growth and improvement. Currently, the assessment tool is exclusively available to those who participate in the Center for Third Space Boot Camps.

For many, soft skills may remain hard to test because they can be hard to identify. There has been pushback that the term ‘soft skills’ can even be misleading, as ‘soft’ seems to imply something less important than ‘hard’ or ‘technical’ skills. Additionally, there is a lack of standard categorization and definition of such skills.

McKinsey’s 2018 report “Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce” separates workplace skills into five sectors, including “social and emotional skills” and “higher cognitive skills.” Interpersonal skills, such as communication and empathy, fall under social and emotional skills, while creativity and critical thinking fall under higher cognitive—all are traditionally considered ‘soft skills’ and expected to grow in demand by 2030.

Creativity topped LinkedIn’s 2019 list of most in-demand soft skills—something inherent in Third Space’s ACE-IT attributes, namely 360-Degree Thinking. Adaptability (the ‘A’ in ACE-IT) came in at number three on LinkedIn’s list.

In an article for Fast Company, LinkedIn’s senior director of talent acquisition Jennifer Shappley said improving soft skill assessments is the key to “future-proof your workforce”. As demand for soft skills grows, the need for a formal assessment process to measure them like the Third Space Thinking Assessment will also be higher than ever.

If you’re interested in our Boot Camp or want more information on how to bring Third Space’s soft skill assessment and training to your office, let us know!