Soft skills: Why they’re important for Canada’s future workforce

Canada’s record low unemployment rate and high number of job vacancies are changing how companies hire. What was important to Canadian employers in the past – such as direct job-related experience and specific qualifications – is becoming less crucial. Nowadays, employers are looking at a candidate’s soft skills to determine suitability for a position.

According to a recent survey, almost 80 per cent of employers value soft skills over hard skills and are willing to hire workers without experience related to the job.

Soft skills are nothing new. Over 100 years ago in 1918, research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center concluded that 85 per cent of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills. The research found that only 15 per cent of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).

Somewhere over the past century, there was a shift where employers began focusing more on hard skills. But the time has come to revisit the importance of soft skills – because they are critical to Canada’s future workforce.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the behaviours, personal attributes and work habits that an individual requires to be successful at work. Regardless of one’s seniority level, role, or industry, these skills help ensure a productive, collaborative, healthy work environment.

These core skills help us fit in at a workplace, work with and relate to others, and enhance our ability to get a job done. Unlike hard or technical skills – which are generally learned and can be measured – soft skills are more challenging to develop and evaluate. Every career needs at least some soft skills to bring value to its required hard skills.

Examples of soft skills include collaboration, adaptability and time management.

Why are soft skills important?

Today’s tight labour market means that hiring managers need to be much more creative with finding their next new job hire.

Although many careers require specialized skills – such as healthcare or engineering – there are numerous positions in Canada that view soft skills with more importance. For example, a salesperson with expert product knowledge won’t be able to increase company profits if they lack proper interpersonal skills to retain clients.

According to The Future of Work Skills 2020 report from the World Economic Forum, workers will need to acquire a range of new skills over the next 10 years. The most important will be those soft skills that are critical to future jobs, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, self-reliance and teamwork.

In today’s growing age of technology, tasks that once typically relied on hard skills are starting to decline. Automation and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, creating the need for more soft skills to complement the capabilities of cutting-edge technology.

Furthermore, technology changes quickly, and as a result, technology-based skills often become obsolete within two years. It’s the soft skills, such as collaboration and communication, that are most important and can be transferred into different positions within an organization.

Benefits to employees

With the current employment market favouring the employee, there is a lot of opportunity for those who are unemployed or under-employed to gain meaningful employment.

With many businesses willing to train workers on-the-job, candidates no longer need direct experience; they simply need to have the right soft skills.

Soft skills are harder to teach, but not impossible to be learned. There are several courses available on improving soft skills, such as these free ones from the ABC Skills Hub.

Here are six critical soft skills that today’s employers highly value:

  • Communication: Written, verbal and non-verbal communication is the foundation of any workplace interaction. We need strong communication skills to share information, discuss ideas and organize business goals as a team. We can also better engage in conflict resolution, mitigate the effects of miscommunication, and avoid potential costly damages as an organization.
  • Collaboration: Being trustworthy, sensitive to others’ needs, and enjoyable to work with can help create a positive work environment for everyone. Besides assisting us to work cooperatively, collaboration increases performance and productivity.
  • Adaptability: Change is constant in most workplaces and employees need to be able to adapt. The ability to adjust to new situations and manage change in a positive way is necessary for solid work relationships.
  • Problem Solving: Workplaces often have unexpected challenges, so workers need to be able to analyze obstacles and determine the best solutions. Great problem solvers use their skills to solve various technical, interpersonal and organizational challenges. Being able to problem solve quickly and efficiently can create optimal productivity.
  • Attitude: Having a positive attitude, being friendly towards coworkers and displaying an eagerness to work can help create a positive work environment. Being willing to brainstorm new ideas and try innovative ways of doing things are important attributes to the success of a workplace. A positive attitude at work is especially crucial in fast-paced careers. 
  • Accountability: Workers who can apply their best effort while working collaboratively with others can help drive an organization forward. Employees with a great work ethic usually have discipline and integrity and are dependable and loyal. They view their role in their organization as an important responsibility.

Benefits to employers

When an organization invests in employees with well-defined soft skills, they can future-proof their company and staff. Introducing new ideas, services and products is possible – and much easier – if employees have well-developed creative and critical thinking skills.

Employers who focus on soft skills when recruiting workers should hire for potential, not just knowledge. Candidates who have an open attitude towards learning, are adaptable, and can problem solve effectively will be able to contribute better to an organization’s success. This leads to more job satisfaction for an employee.

Soft skills can also improve an employee’s ability to interact with others and deliver optimal results. They help differentiate employees who can not only do the job, but do it well. Soft skills such as collaboration and communication, help increase career growth potential, creating more fulfilled workers.

Hiring employees with relevant soft skills also leads to better retention rates. According to this LinkedIn report, almost 90 per cent of recruiters admit that a lack of soft skills is usually why a hire doesn’t work out.

Making the investment

According to a survey from Harris Poll, 59 per cent of Canadian businesses say they can’t find qualified employees to fill vacancies. A third of those businesses say the main reason is because candidates don’t have the soft skills that they are looking for, such as dependability, flexibility and a willingness to learn.

Finding qualified candidates can be difficult, but one solution is investing in workplace training programs. With a lack of eligible candidates, soft skill training can be a way for employers to not only get the employees they need, but train them specifically on the skills that would be helpful on the job.

UP Skills for Work is one such program. Offered by ABC Life Literacy Canada, it provides free workbooks and resources on 16 different employability and life skills, including adaptability, time management and confidence. Organizations can sign up to host one or more free workshops on these topics, and participants will walk away with the skills needed to succeed on the job.

Investing in employee training has a strong return on investment. According to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, on average, a one-dollar investment in training returns a benefit to the employer of $1.38. Furthermore, it leads to benefits such as improved retention rates and productivity. Forty per cent of working Canadians say that their company rarely or never provides them with career development support, and 39 per cent say they would take a pay cut from another employer that offered better professional development opportunities. 


As the economic landscape continues to evolve, soft skills will become increasingly important. Effective soft skills – or the non-technical abilities that depend on personality traits – are essential for a worker’s success. These skills provide the foundation for having a fulfilling career and help workers contribute to the needs of our country’s workforce.