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Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

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Hard and Soft Competencies

The definitions of hard and soft skills distinguish between the hard technical skills of performing the job and the soft behavioral skills required in the workplace. Hard skills refer to the skills in the technical category, dealing with data and administrative skills. Soft skills are defined as the “interpersonal, human, people or behavioral skills needed to apply technical skills and knowledge in the workplace” (Weber et al. 2009; De Villiers, 2010). Also, the core competencies for today’s workplace are: soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are viewed as complements to hard skills and are requirements for successful workplace performance.

Hard skills are those skills associated with specific technical knowledge and task-oriented skills (Ashbaugh, 2003). Hard skills are primarily mental or cognitive in nature. They are most likely influenced by an individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ) (Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell, & Lay, 2002).

Soft skills are often associated with interpersonal, emotional, and behavioral skills and place more importance on personal behavior and managing human relationships (Buhler, 2001; Douglas & Christain 2002; Rainsbury et al., 2002). Soft skills are primarily affective and behavioral in nature, and most likely influenced by an individual’s emotional quotient (EQ).

In view of the fact that hard/technical skills may differ according to context and functional role (e.g. for an auditor or events manager, project management may be regarded as a hard skill, whilst the same skill may be deemed to be a soft skill for a debtors or line manager), two domains of competencies will first be defined and then subdivided into subskill competency categories. Both the domains and the categories are not mutually exclusive and are illustrative rather than comprehensive (De Villiers, 2010). Also, hard/technical skills may differ according to context and functional role (e.g. for an auditor or events manager, project management may be regarded as a hard skill, whilst the same skill may be deemed to be a soft skill for a debtors or line manager) (De Villiers, 2010).

In relation to important of hard and soft, Coll, Zegwaard, & Hodges (2002) found that comparison of hard skills and soft skills are important. Hence, it shows that the science and technology students, like their business student counterparts, perceive soft skills to be as equally important as hard skills. Also, in determining the importance of the two competencies of hard and soft skills, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claims that employers afford 20 percent of the weighting to hard skills (amenable to certification) and 80 per cent to noncertified soft skills (CBI, 2007; Moss and Tilly, 1996; Keep and James, 2010). Also between sectors the importance of soft and hard competences was also investigated, Keep & James (2010) argue that employers in different sectors may place very different relative weighting on soft skills. It seems likely that sectors such as hotels and catering and retailing will value soft skills higher than non-service sector employers (Keep & James, 2010).

Reasons for Preferring Hard and Soft Competence

Researchers consider soft and hard domain of competencies to indicate the employee competency, and consider the recruitment and selection outcome for four motives.

First: the importance of soft and cognitive/ hard competences for employee, also required by the organization, since hard and soft skills needed in modern organizations. Also, both skills are considered for job success and organizational effectiveness (Snyder, et al., 2006). For the soft competence, the previous studies consider the important for job performance such as (Spencer and Spencer, 1993; Desman, et al, 2011; Snyder, et al. 2006; Coll & Zegwaard; 2006; Evers & Rush 1996; Promis, 2008). Furthermore, Heimler (2010) considered the basic (soft) competency skills to be important for job performance. Furthermore, it has shown that hard skills components such as thinking critically and solving problems are technical skills and important for employees. However, Dunne and Rawlins (2000) also realize the competence importance and assume that mastery of technical skills within disciplinary content is more important to employees (Robinson, and Garton, 2008; Whitefield & Kloot, 2006; Schleifer and Greenawalt, 1996).

Second: the hard and soft competencies are represent most of the competencies needed for workplace success and performance, Thus Spencer & Spencer (1993) identified a number of competency categories which were combined under cognitive/ hard and behavior/soft competency where the authors claim that it accounts for 80-95% of the distinguishing features of superior performers in technical and managerial positions (Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell & Lay, 2002; Coll, Zegwaard,& Hodges, 2002).

Third: these competencies classification (hard and soft) were employed by the more recent literature which also, revealed that these skills are the most important and top skills required for success of graduates such as: professional knowledge, interpersonal competencies, management competencies, leadership competencies, and critical thinking competencies (Holtzman & Kraft, 2011, DeLaune, 2004, Gault, et. al, 2010, Heimler, 2010, Martensen & Gronholdt, 2009, Desman et al, 2011).

Fourth: the hard and soft competencies were considered in the selection process. Such soft / behavioral competence can measured by several selection methods such as an interview; Analysis presentation, and general mental ability test (Lievens, Harris, Van Keer, & Bisqueret, 2003; Bertua, Anderson & Salgado, 2005; Blickle, et al., 2011). Also for the component of cognitive/ hard competence such technical experties, thinking competence, were considered in selecting methods and decision selection, and also, performance evaluation. The employer conduct the general mental ability (GMA) test to measure these competencies, to distinguish between candidates in the selection methods and selection decision process (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998; Bertua, Anderson & Salgado, 2005; Blickle, et al., 2011).

The fifth reason is performed particular for cognitive hard competency with three components; (technical expertise, analytical thinking and conceptual competencies), they were classified that can measure employee competency at different job positions, and utilized for different graduates professionals from different schools (Breuning, Parker, & Ishiyama, 2001; McClelland 1998; Billing (2007). As well, These competencies can be transferable between jobs (Gick and Holyoak, 1987; Boyatzis , 2008).