It’s Time to Close the Behavioural Skills Gap


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As the fourth industrial revolution—or Industry 4.0—takes hold, entire sectors are being transformed by technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation and robotics. While it’s easy to envision a workforce where tech skills dominate, the in-demand skills of the future are actually human.

In September, IBM Institute for Business Value released a global study that looks at the skills business leaders need over the next three years [1]. The study, which includes input from 5,670 global executives in 48 countries, found that while technical and digital skills remain important, they’re no longer the priority. In fact, the top four core competencies executives seek are behavioural:

  • Willingness to be flexible, agile and adaptable to change
  • Time management skills and ability to prioritize
  • Ability to work effectively in team environments
  • Ability to communicate effectively in a business context


That’s a marked change from 2016, when executives ranked technical core capabilities for STEM and basic computer and software application skills as the top two most critical skills for employees.

Why are behavioural skills now the most sought-after skills? The report states that while organizations still struggle to address gaps in technical skills, there have been significant efforts and investments in this area. In addition, executives recognize that succeeding in this constantly evolving landscape requires people who are effective communicators, problem solvers and critical thinkers. In the IBM study, teamwork and organizational flexibility top executives’ list of most important attributes for successful innovation.

While it’s critical to create strategies for the future workplace, the need for behavioural skills is very much a pressing, present-day issue. In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report [2], 92% of talent professionals reported that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. Eighty-nine percent said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lack critical soft skills. The trouble is, more than half (57%) struggle to assess soft skills accurately, and only 41% of respondents say their company has a formal assessment process in place.


Before the skills gap gets any larger, business leaders and HR professionals must face this challenge together by:

1-Gaining a better understanding of the organization’s workforce needs –both for today and tomorrow.

2-Investing in upskilling and reskilling to help workers gain new knowledge and skills.

3-Implementing learning and development programs that emphasize behavioural skills such as creativity, collaboration and problem solving.

4-Creating a formal behavioural skills assessment at the hiring level, and enlisting outside professional help to determine if a candidate has the right skills for the position.


Unlike hard skills, which are relatively straightforward to assess, it can be more challenging to screen for behavioural skills. Not only are these competencies subjective in nature, interviewers generally don’t have the time, training or experience to complete the more rigorous in-depth assessment required to properly evaluate this critical dimension of fit. The advantage of using an executive search firm is that they are professional interviewers, trained in the art and have at their disposal the tools (science) to conduct an assessment at the senior level. Typically, executive recruiters will have gotten to know talent over time and will have networks of networks who can validate individual assessment and go beyond the resume. All of which provide a more robust and thorough review of the prospective candidate.


While technologies like AI, robotics, cloud computing are game-changers in the business world, it’s clear that this new era also requires uniquely human traits. Organizations that prioritize both technical and human skills will be better positioned for success.