What Are Durable Skills And Why Is There A Shortage?

SVP at CompTIA.

Durable skills are increasingly in demand, which means HR should start developing and hiring for these skills of the future. Durable skills have replaced soft skills as those highly sought after, rarely taught professional capabilities like problem-solving, leadership, critical thinking and personal skills like teamwork, flexibility, adaptability and creativity.

Durable skills differ from hard skills in that hard skills are more often traditionally taught, easily measured and credentialed, while durable skills are seldom taught and are more challenging to measure. Durable skills are known for their long-life durability, while hard skills are often considered perishable. Think about durable skills like the roots or trunk of a tree, while hard skills are the branches and leaves that come and go with the seasons.

Durable skills take the old concept of soft skills and expand it across the various attributes required to interact with others and be successful in the workplace. Skills such as teamwork, collaboration, negotiation, critical thinking, initiative, risk-taking, creativity, adaptability, leadership, cognitive flexibility and problem-solving are just some of the many durable skills.

Research from America Succeeds, leveraging data from 82 million job postings, found that roughly seven out of 10 requested skills on job postings were classified as durable skills. The research also showed demand for durable skills is greatest in jobs and industries aligned to the future of work, with roles in management, business operations and engineering demanding at least one durable skill. Jobs at risk of elimination due to automation, by contrast, have lower demand for durable skills.

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Businesses continue to feel the impact of underprepared talent, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting over 10.9 million job openings for December and near record-low unemployment at 3.9%. A 2021 ManpowerGroup survey found that 69% of businesses were struggling to find talent in 2021, whereas the same study from 2015 showed only 38% of businesses reported the same challenge.

My company, CompTIA, has conducted research that indicates how soft skills and business acumen are increasing in importance but training and proper certification lag. A December 2021 report from CompTIA indicated critical-thinking and communications skills were rated especially high.

Why are many of these durable skills lacking in graduates and not taught in school? Why are they not an integral part of most job interviews? It’s because they are often considered nebulous—difficult to measure or quantify—and yet at the same time they are deemed indispensable and valuable.

So, what is the answer? Higher education needs to step up and listen to what the business world is saying it needs and include these durable skills in its programs. Alternatively, businesses and third parties can help fill the gap with training, certifications and ongoing learning. HR leaders can actively seek out these skills when hiring to ensure their workforce consists of people with these long-term skills.

In today’s world measuring durable skills is challenging but not impossible. In my previous life as an executive at a leading IT provider, one of my management teams led a group to develop a simple way to test some of the basics of durable skills during the interview process.

We asked the candidates to prepare a 10-minute presentation for our interview panel. They could use any format they were comfortable with—PowerPoint, whiteboard, flipchart, notes, whatever they chose. They needed to tell a little about themselves, their background, previous jobs, ambitions, clubs or teams they belonged to, why they were interested in our company and why they were best suited for this job.

In those 10 minutes, we usually knew if this person had the requisite character traits and interpersonal skills for the customer-facing role. We saw how they planned their time, what research they did on the company, our products, our leadership, our history, the job itself, what questions they had for us, what their thought process was and how confident and comfortable they were.

A résumé can tell you if a candidate has the background, training and credentials necessary to excel in a role. This exercise is a great way to see a candidate’s personality, poise, creativity, initiative, teamwork, resourcefulness and communications skills. Of course, you should use the balance of the interview to validate hard skills.

Durable skills are in high demand. A 2021 report from Mursion found that while hard technical skills embedded throughout academia are critical to career success, these skills alone are not enough to stand out in a competitive job market. Its data revealed 44% of HR professionals would hire an applicant with strong durable skills over an applicant with superior hard or technical skills.

Investment in durable skills development with existing staff is a critical step for all employers to empower employees to make dynamic, longer-term contributions to the future of the organization. According to workforce futurist Alexandra Levit in an SHRM piece, “Most people are hired for their technical abilities, their soft skills give them ‘career durability.'”

Many successful employers invest in, have and continue to run programs to prepare their workforce for the skills of the future. Do you? What’s stopping you?

Here are a few takeaways:

• Hire for both durable skills and hard skills

• Train your managers on how to interview for durable skills

• Train your people on durable skills as well as perishable skills

We are heading into what could be a hiring perfect storm for many companies. Isn’t it time we updated those 40-year-old hiring practices and began to hire for the future? We can start today by seeking out those skills that will be most in-demand in the future.


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