Soft Skills Are Out, Power Skills Are In

  • June 20, 2022

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash


Workplace demands are changing. Rapidly. We’ve all had to quickly adapt to new ways of working. We are building more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive workplaces. And we are more aware than ever before of the relationship between employee wellbeing and productivity.

All of this means that the expectations of people in the workforce are evolving. And if employers aren’t evolving in response, they will be left behind.

One of the most critical areas that employers are expected to respond to is in providing learning and development opportunities to employees. But the areas in which employees want to learn and upskill are also evolving.

We are facing skills shortages

As the workplace changes, so too does our understanding of HOW we learn. Learning, in itself, is a skill. One that is made up of a complex mix of mindsets, skills and habits that come together to create the drive, capability and curiosity required to learn.

So if we want our employees to learn new technical skills, we must first recognise the importance of developing the skills that will facilitate this learning. The skills that we know as “soft skills”.

But if these skills are the framework and, indeed, the catalyst for ALL other learning. Are we really doing them justice by calling them “soft”?

Josh Bersin, corporate talent and learning guru, coined the term “power skills” in 2019. And we love it. So many organisations have now adopted this phrase, and it’s easy to see why when Josh explains how he sees the hard/soft skills paradox:

“Hard skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted and are relatively easy to learn), and soft skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical and take extreme effort to obtain).”

The term “power skills” assigns the correct emphasis to the skills that enable us to learn, retain and utilise all the other specific and specialised skills needed to do our jobs. It’s these skills that give us the power to do our jobs – hence the moniker.

Power skills are the abilities that provide the scaffolding and the framework upon which all other learning can be built, and the context in which we can all work together and put them into practice.


What are the benefits of developing soft skills amongst the workforce?

More effective communication.

Stronger leadership.

Increased problem-solving, critical thinking and innovation.

Higher productivity and efficiency.

A better culture.


Which power skills are the most in-demand?

According to training firm Udemy, the most highly coveted power skills for 2022 (defined by the demand for training in them) are:

Top 5 surging communication & teamwork skills for 2022

  • Assertiveness
  • Facilitation
  • Team building
  • Business writing
  • Critical thinking

Top 5 surging leadership & management skills for 2022

  • Diversity & inclusion
  • OKR (goal setting)
  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Management coaching

How can power skills be developed?

Employers and individuals can build power skills first by emphasising and appreciating their importance. The next step is developing a system to measure them and identify areas where improvement is required.

A skills gap analysis has become an increasingly relevant tool in this age of rapid technological change. But it’s notoriously difficult to measure soft skills, and also extremely difficult to broach these skills gaps with employees – who can take it as a criticism of who they are.

How can power skills be measured?

There are multiple ways to measure these intangible skills, and they have their individual merits and pitfalls.

Assessments rely largely on self-reporting in questionnaires. Employees are basically asked how they think they would respond to hypothetical scenarios. The reality could look very different, the results will naturally be biased and it’s often easy for people to say what they think people want to hear rather than the objective truth.

Another option is a behavioural interview approach. A skilled interviewer can ask open-ended questions of a candidate or an employee. The benefit of this approach is that people must expand upon their claims and provide examples, and it makes it more difficult to “game the system”. The answers are, of course, open to interpretation by the assessor.

Another option, which many Learning and Development professionals consider the gold standard, is simulations. Whether using virtual reality or role play, assessors can gauge people’s responses to stressors or scenarios with much more realism and true insight.

How can power skills be developed?

Once you know which power skills should be developed in which team members, learning can take multiple forms. It’s important to include the development of power skills in employees’ personalised learning journeys.

Create these learning journeys to encompass traditional and non-traditional modes of learning. Certification platforms already exist for power skills, and other options include peer-to-peer coaching and knowledge sharing

The future of power skills

These are the skills that machines or AI cannot emulate. They are the skills that will become the most crucial drivers of personal and professional performance.

Making power skills assessment a part of candidate profiling and the hiring process, as well as a crucial aspect of your job specs, is all part and parcel of making power skills a priority within your teams from the outset.


For more insights follow us on LinkedIn.


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