Can you imagine your training and development manager staring at the budget and trying to decide where to invest the company’s money?

The narrative in their head might sound something like this.

“Can we afford to incorporate training on creative problem solving?”
“We have some new products coming out in the first quarter and we have to train our salespeople on those.”
“Then there’s the ethics and safety training we have to complete for compliance.”
“Can we afford to have our people out for that much time?”
“I guess the soft-skills training will have to wait until the back half of the year. Hopefully, we’ll have enough money left.”

This mental tug of war between technical, or hard skills training, and the soft skills necessary for business growth is fraught with tension. In the short term, hard skills training is concrete and can be entered into a box that says, “We did what we had to do.”

In the long term, the company has added a shovel full of depth to the skills gap that will prevent the company, and it’s leadership from future growth.

I’m going to start with the “bottom-line” of my post. You don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have both.

Let’s tackle the primary question of this post, “Are you spending your training budget on the right content?” in two parts:

  1. What content do employers prioritize in their training?
  2. What myths exist to block employers from investing in the most effective and efficient training topics?

You don’t have to choose between soft skills and hard skills training. When a learning program is designed well, you can have both.

Since this is part 2 of a three-part series, I won’t reiterate the sizes of the business’ surveyed or their training budgets by the Brandon Hall Group (BGH). You can review them in the first post, Are You Spending Your Training Budget on the Right People?

I will reiterate two things. First, that you make the assumption that the money you are spending on training now is enough. I’m not going to convince you to spend more. Second, that when I reference the BHG webinar, I’m referring to the one titled, How Are You Utilizing Your Learning Analytics.

What types of content do businesses spend their money on?

Of the companies surveyed by BHG, let’s look at where the most hours are spent.

  • 33% of companies spent 10+ hours on technical training.
  • 31% of companies surveyed spent 10+ hours on products/service training.

If a company spent time on training, the topics that garnered 1-3 hour of training for the year were:

  • HR/legal for 57% of companies
  • Ethics for 50% of reporting companies
  • Compliance/regulatory for 44% of companies

Soft skills training got its own line item in this study. Here are the numbers BHG shared in their webinar.

Soft skills percentage chart

These numbers reflect any soft skills training. As you read in the first post, most soft skills training is lumped into leadership training and concentrated at the top of the organization.

What’s the big deal?

Three powerhouse conductors of research, Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center, concluded that 85% of job success comes from strong soft skills and people skills. Thanks to, I can share with you that the first of this research began with from Charles Mann in his Study of Engineering Education in 1918. 1918!

Almost 100 years later we’re still experiencing and writing about, leadership or skills gap in our workplaces.

There are many ways to cut the soft skills pie. I invite you to read the 2015 Leadership Gap White Paper that discusses the needed, and lacking, skills in depth. What I’d like to concentrate on are the myths that can keep us from making progress in narrowing that gap.

Myths That Block Employers from Choosing the Right Content

Myth #1: We’re Growing Too Fast (too many new products, too little time) to Prioritize Soft Skill Training.

The fact is, you are losing time and money when your employees don’t know how to solve people problems. In this video from the Harvard Business Review, a study estimates businesses lose just over $144,000 a day – over $57 million a year, due to poor people skills. People skills, of course, fall into the soft skills category. Watch the short (<3 min.) video for the full impact.

You can’t afford to ignore soft skills training in your staff development mix.

Businesses lose just over $144,000 a day – over $57 million a year – on wasted time and money due to people poorly managed people problems. (Source: HBR Video)

Myth #2: We Hire For Soft Skills and Train the Hard Skills

This is a favorite mantra of HR Professionals. It’s also a good strategy – at the time of hire.

In the short term, the new hire may have the soft skills needed to do their job. The company trains them on specific products and processes. What happens at the year 1, 2, or 3 marks? Recruiting resource Entelo, performed a study to understand when an employee is most likely to leave their job. They found spikes in turnover at 12 months, or yearly, anniversaries. Employees are most likely to leave one year after hire.

What does this data mean for soft skills training in your development plans? To strengthen your retention show your employees, before their first 12 months is over, that you understand the soft skills they need to succeed will grow and change with their career paths.

Buck the trend seen in Spherion Staffing’s 2016 Emerging Workforce Study. Results summarized in a piece by CLOmedia, reveals “nearly one-third of workers do not feel like their companies provide them with adequate skills training, nor do they think their current skills make them promotion-ready.”

Soft skills are not one and done. For effective succession planning, continued attention to soft skill content in staff development is necessary for both top-line and bottom-line growth.

Myth #3: Spending More on Training will Narrow our Skills Gap.

As a learning designer and trainer, it would be economically beneficial for me to sell you on this myth. It would be unethical, however. Yes, you could get more and better results by sending greater amounts on training, but it’s not that simple.

The 2016 Emerging Workforce Study reported approximately 45% of companies taking part in the study increased their training budgets in recent years.

More training is not necessarily better. Better training is better.

Christo Popov, a guest blogger for, posits the following problems with existing training programs.

“I’ve seen a few common problems in companies’ existing training programs. The big one is having no strategic focus to their training. Companies don’t train employees in the skills most critical to the business’s stage of development. They send the wrong people to the training, over-train them and spend too little time on implementation.”

In addition, Popov cites the lack of training that’s both interesting and useful. In the third post in this series, we’ll explore how to use blended learning to bring about the interesting/useful ideal.

What do you do with your training budget then?

Do hard or soft skills win the tug of war? The answer is not zero sum. Neither have to lose.

Instead, soft skills, like leadership skills, can be integrated into technical and product training with the help of a skilled learning designer and support from learning leaders in your company.

I’ll leave you with this question.

Next time you schedule Excel or Ethics training, how can you build personal accountability, teamwork, communication, or emotional intelligence into the learning design?


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