Business leaders in call for soft skills boost

15 January 2015 -


Senior figures at Barclays and McDonalds among backers of campaign to drive awareness of soft skills’ value to UK economy

Jermaine Haughton

Basic business talents such as clear communication and effective time management benefit the UK economy to the tune of £88 billion, and that is set to rise to £109bn over the next five years. The figures have emerged from a major new campaign calling for a dramatic re-evaluation of soft skills – supported by multinationals including McDonalds and Barclays, plus a host of pro-business and adult-education groups.

Launched under the banner Backing Soft Skills, the campaign aims to make employers, government ministers and education bodies aware of the potential damage that the UK economy would sustain if soft skills were neglected. In particular, the campaigners note that 97% of employers it has talked to consider soft skills are crucial to business success – but current gaps in the field could hold back the careers of more than half a million workers by 2021, with those in the food services, retail and healthcare sectors most at risk.

According to McDonald’s UK and Northern Europe chief people officer Jez Langhorn, soft skills are “incredibly important” – not just to his own industry, but across the board. “As integral as they are to the performance and progression of our employees,” he said, “I know that we can do more to recognise their importance, which is why we are launching this campaign. I want to find ways in which we can better recognise soft skills and I’m calling on others to join us in re-evaluating and improving [them].”

Fellow backer James Caan – a longstanding panellist on TV’s Dragon’s Den – said that teamwork in particular was one skill that he would like the campaign to help improve. “In my own organisation,” he told the Daily Mail, “every function we have is based around team structures so if I thought you were a good team player – for example, a captain of a team or group at school – that would show you had some leadership skills and were good at interacting with others and that might be enough for me to want to see you.”

Petra Wilton – director of strategy and external affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) – emphasised that soft skills are integral to management and leadership. She told Insights: “So-called ‘soft skills’ are absolutely vital to business success – not least since many of them are in fact the basics of good management and leadership. It’s just not possible to be a successful manager without these core people and team-leading skills. We have to get better at helping people develop these abilities. We can only do this by explicitly recognising the value of professional management skills. As such, there’s far more that we can do to embed management and leadership into the heart of our education system.”

David Hughes – chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) – stressed that increasing learning opportunities for adults is essential. “Soft skills do not get the attention or recognition that they deserve,” he said in a statement from the campaign. “We know through our work just how many adults improve these skills through taking part in all types of learning. All forms of learning, and not just those that lead to qualifications, help people build confidence, progress to other skills and are crucial to ensure they thrive in their lives and careers. Soft skills are also what every employer needs from their workforce to be successful.”

He added: “one soft skill that we want to promote is the confidence to go on to further learning. This commitment and enthusiasm [for workers] to continuously develop in their careers will help them adapt to the changing workplace.”

Backing Soft Skills has targeted five areas that it wants to focus on and improve:

1. Communication and interpersonal skills

2. Teamwork

3. Time and self-management

4. Decision making

5. Taking responsibility

It has also opened a three-month consultation for business leaders to share their views on soft skills. Findings and long-term recommendations will be published later in 2015. The consultation document can be downloaded from the campaign’s website.

For further thoughts on essential management skills, sign up to this forthcoming CMI seminar.

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