The Rise of Soft Skills in Asia-Pacific 


Human Resources leaders in the APAC region are promoting the importance of soft skills, also known as behavioural skills, more than ever. The pandemic demonstrated that employees at every level need agility, critical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity, and communication skills. As the crisis wears on, leaders with empathy are taking centerstage and changing the prevailing image of a strong executive.  

Data shows that soft skills are gaining importance in the workforce. The number of jobs in soft-skill intensive occupations is expected to grow at 2.5 times the rate of jobs in other occupations, according to Deloitte Access Economics. In addition, China is forecast to grow the soft skills training market at 57% CAGR (compound annual growth rate), according to Yahoo. By 2030, two-thirds of Australian jobs will be focused on soft skills, according to Deloitte Access Economics.   

WATCH: HR and Future of Work APAC  

A New Mindset about Skills Hiring  

A trend toward hiring those with soft skills is expected by those concerned with the future of work. McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers, or 14% of the global workforce, would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation or artificial intelligence (AI). As machines take over technical work, people need to take on the roles that are best suited to humans. Therefore, emotional intelligence becomes paramount.  

This dramatic shift is important for HR leaders to understand. First, they must consider soft skills when making hiring decisions. Second, they should provide the proper learning and development programs to train people on both hard and soft skills.  

“Society will now be on the lookout for graduates with effective critical thinking skills far more than before and will value them more highly,” says Matthew Allen, adjunct professor in the Institute for Social Change at the University of Tasmania, in the whitepaper, “Australian student voice on the soft skills needed for the future.” 


India Today recently focused on how the latest iteration of work is transformational. Therefore, it requires employees who are:  

  • Strong collaborators 
  • Trustworthy 
  • Efficient 
  • Detail oriented 
  • Emotionally intelligent 

“Indian corporate leaders acknowledge that most young Indians lack the balance of academic grades and soft skills, such as critical thinking and creativity, which are important to emerging job opportunities,” according to BW Education. “This life-skills gap isn’t confined to India and is holding back the business growth and academic research everywhere.”  

Indeed, the region as a whole is confronting the dearth of soft skills among applicants and leadership alike. In the whitepaper about Australian graduates entering the workforce, professors stressed the importance of graduating work-ready employees. The three vital skills they need are complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. Complex problem solving is considered the most important to the success of modern businesses, according to the report.  

READ: Four Key Principles for Evolving the Employee Experience 

What Should APAC HR Leaders Do?  

Training is top of mind with many. Bharat Matrimony, for example, takes a two-pronged approach to coaching, according to “Why big businesses are betting high on behavioural skills” in People Matters. First, it starts from the top to facilitate a trickle-down effect, which means leaders model behaviour to employees. The other focus is on newcomers, who get soft skills training during onboarding and can apply it immediately to their work.  

Learning about how other companies are integrating soft skills also helps. The HR Exchange Network’s HR and Future of Work APAC online event, which is free to join, will cover many of these issues. Melinda McKinley, Managing Director and Global Head, HR Transformation Portfolio at Standard Chartered Bank will address adjusting performance management approaches to recognise new ways of working, which is all about the soft skill of adaptability.  

Avery Banta, Vice President and Head of HRBP, Change Management and Organization Development COE at Globe Telecom, will dedicate her session to lessons in building resiliency. Shruti Ganeriwala, HR Director – Foods & Refreshments & Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Unilever Australia & New Zealand, will focus on diversity and inclusion strategies, which require empathy and communication to achieve.  Saurabh Jain, Head of Human Resources at ABN AMRO Bank N.V., will talk about the changing role of HR and the need for empathy. And the list goes on.  

The pandemic and an accelerated shift toward automation and the use of AI means that the human touch is taking on more relevance. Employers are recognising that they need a workforce with impeccable soft skills that include but are not limited to problem solving, communication, entrepreneurism, and empathy.  

HR leaders are putting greater emphasis on behavioural skills as they vet applicants and plan L&D programs for current employees. This desire to hire people with soft skills is an extension of the transformation in HR and is playing out in future of work initiatives that include a focus on employee engagement, experience, learning, and wellbeing.  

Photo by fauxels for Pexels

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