CEOs share the skills needed for a top performing workforce

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More and more businesses are trying to build a ‘talent first’ workforce. Why? Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that this leads to a more productive and efficient workplace. 

So much so that a study by McKinsey & Co looking at 600,000 people across the entertainment, political and sporting industries found that workplaces with high-performing employees were 400% more productive than those with ‘average’ employees.

But what are the talents or skills that make a high-performing employee and how do you attract them to your business?

We spoke to nearly 30 CEOs and hiring managers from a range of industries to find out.

On whether to train or recruit

The first question is, do you constantly recruit for this perfect combination of skills, or do you train your current employees so they remain up-to-date in their fields?

According to the Skills & Australian Business Report 2018 by TAFE Enterprise, a full 79% of surveyed managers from over 400 businesses around Australia felt that lack of training was holding back their workforce from reaching its full potential.

It’s probably for this reason that businesses are starting to move away from the fear of losing employees after investing in training them, to realising that it’s actually an important retention tool. 

In fact, results from the same survey ranked training as the second most effective way to retain their best staff – only behind pay and incentives. 

Time-poor managers can struggle to find the time for the extra responsibility of training their team, which is when it becomes important to outsource. TAFE Enterprise has plenty of short courses and customised training programs that are tailored to align with your key business priorities and taught by industry experts.

But what skills are high-performing business training for?

On the importance of technical skills

As an employer, searching out staff with top-notch technical skills will always be a priority for a highly functioning business. In fact, we found that employers are actually expecting their workforce to have a wider variety of technical skills than ever before.

Employers are looking to hire people with a broad technical skillset who, for example, can transition from between front-end and back-end development when required,” says Lincoln Benbow, the director of bespoke executive and IT recruitment agency Halcyon KnightsTo stay relevant in a modern workforce, you need to try your hand at as many specialties as you can.

Benbow is certainly not the only one who agrees, and a focus on digital literacy was a running theme in the CEOs we spoke to.

…The main skill we are looking for in our workforce is digital literacy, whether that be across marketing, social media, content creation, data analysis, design or on the back-end of websites, with coding and site creation,” explains Lauren Lee, CEO of Australia’s largest Korean Beauty platform STYLE STORY, “I need staff that are able to keep up with the new ways in which people are consuming information and making purchasing decisions.

It makes no difference whether you’re a large company or a smaller startup. The workplace is forever changing, especially thanks to new technology, and CEOs are in agreement that a strong team is one that can keep up.

A willingness to learn and the ability to work well in a cross-functional team is really important, especially for startups,” agrees Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of global creative platform startup 99designs. “After all, technology is creating jobs that simply didn’t exist even a few years ago so the more someone is willing to embrace lifelong learning, the more adaptable and valuable they will be…

On the overwhelming call for soft skills

What is changing these days is the increasing recognition for employees to have a range of soft skills to combine with their technical ones.

We’re looking for the right attitude and intuitions in candidates that will be essential when collaborating and problem-solving,” explains the CEO of financial comparison website Canstar, Andrew Spicer. “Soft skills and potential now have as much weight in our recruitment efforts as technical skills and professional experience,” he said. 

Soft skills – including a willingness to learn and problem-solving abilities – were overwhelmingly regarded as equally important to recruit for as technical skills by the CEOs we spoke to. 

They complement each other in a way that leads to an adaptable and knowledgable workforce.

While we are a technology company, you don’t necessarily need a tech degree to work at Slack. We look for people [who] are passionate — those who have a desire for exploration and curiosity for how things work,” believes Arturo Arrarte, Head of Growth at Slack APAC, the internal company communication tool.

Jodie King, Air New Zealand’s chief people officer, agrees.

In a world where we’re constantly surrounded by technology and communicating remotely, someone who is able to demonstrate soft skills can be a huge asset to a business. People who can demonstrate this quickly and in a genuine way can make a huge difference internally and externally to business.

Why is this? 

There’s a common belief that for as long as a changing technology is inevitable, employees with the right soft skills to want to keep learning and contributing to a changing work environment are completely necessary.

Change in technology is likely to occur at an exponential rate and we need people with the resilience to lead themselves and others through that change,” says business software company MYOB’s Head of Organisational Development, Lauren Trethowan.

Look for courses, like those at TAFE Enterprise, that specifically delve into leadership skills and emotional intelligence and start building a stronger workforce.

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