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In-demand skills: how to set yourself apart from the competition

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The rapidly evolving nature of today’s job market brings with it a need to regularly reassess skillsets; the right set of skills can make all the difference to a professional’s job prospects. With two thirds (66%) of large UK businesses reporting a “struggle to recruit employees with the skills they need”(Oxford Learning College: skills gap statistics UK 2023), there is a continued skills shortage for various professions.

While some are quick to blame the rise in digitisation and the birth of AI for the growing skills gap in professions like General Insurance, Legal and Financial Services, the reality is that these developments have simply altered the types of skills employers look for. Strong analytical and decision making skills, for example, is more desirable than ever, and is predicted to stay that way with “decision-making currently the least automated workplace task, accounting for just 26% of task automation”(World Economic Forum: these are the most in-demand skills now -and beyond 2023). Creative thinking and problem solving continues to be a priority for employers as businesses assess how they can expand their customer base and increase revenue. The World Economic Forum states that, “businesses report creative thinking to be rapidly growing in importance”(World Economic Forum: the future of jobs report 2023)and research by Statista shows that “More than 70% of companies surveyed [worldwide] consider creative thinking and analytical thinking to be the skills most expected to rise in importance between 2023 and 2027” (Statista: skills expected to rise in importance from 2023 to 2027).

For professionals searching for a new role in the Professional Services sector it's more important than ever to stay up-to-date with continued professional development, to ensure competitiveness and employability. For those apprehensive about entering a company on merit of skills and not position, Deloitte emphasise that: “organisations with a skills-based approach are 107% more likely to place talent effectively” (Deloitte: navigating the end of jobs). High performing businesses understand that hiring similar talent of the same job role doesn’t guarantee the perfect fit, choosing instead to prioritise employees who are able to demonstrate ‘outside of the box thinking’ and further learning.

Below, we explore in-demand skills across Legal, General Insurance and Financial Services, from the perspectives of employees and employers.

The importance of soft skills

Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal competencies that influence how a professional interacts with people, manages their workload and identifies problems and solutions. Also known as non-cognitive skills or interpersonal skills, soft skills differ from hard skills in the sense that they are personal attributes, whereas hard skills cover job specific knowledge and abilities needed to perform job requirements effectively.

Data fromour 2023 Salary Guideshowed that employers continue to value soft skills over technical skills, looking primarily for professionals who have mastered the following:

  • Problem solving - demonstrating the ability to identify, address and overcome challenges.

  • Working effectively - ensuring efficiency and productivity in the workplace, displaying the ability to work in a team, delegate and manage workloads.

    Communication – the one employers really look for, communication skills facilitate effective collaboration, understanding, and the ability to convey information clearly.

Closing the gap in General Insurance

Across the General Insurance profession, 76% of employers reported a skills shortage, primarily communication, problem solving and working efficiently, with 8% classing it as an extreme shortage. In addition, our research found a sizeable disconnect between the skills employers are looking for versus the skills employees perceive to be in demand, with 96% of employees stating they have the skills to fulfil their role and 36% of employers commenting that their company does not have the right talent to help it succeed.

This misalignment isn’t limited to hard skills. When asked what soft skills were needed in the workforce, employers and employees once again provided different answers.

Employers prioritised:

  • Communication (62%)

  • Problem solving (61%)

  • Working efficiently (57%)

Whereas employees prioritised:

  • Influencing (37%)

  • People management (36%)

  • Critical thinking (27%)

Such a wide gap in perceptions and understanding could lead to people working towards incompatible goals, steering a company in conflicting directions and ultimately handicapping progress. To avoid these outcomes, employers need to ensure employees are on the same page with not only what goals the business is working towards, but also how to get there.

For more specific information on salaries, benefits and skills required across the Insurance profession, access our 2023 General Insurance Salary & Benefits guide.

Establishing expectations in Financial Services

Over a quarter of Financial Services organisations (27%) in ourSalary & Benefits guidereported that they do not believe their company has the skills needed to be successful in the coming year, with 33% experiencing a skills shortage in influencing, negotiation, people management, critical thinking, and decision making over the past twelve months. Employers ranked working effectively, problem solving, and communication as the most desired skills, whereas employees prioritised influencing and negotiation as the skills they felt more important.

One possible explanation for this misalignment could be a lack of collaboration between the business, education and political sectors. Professionals often only have the skills listed in a brief job description as reference, so it’s important that educational establishments and governments stay up to date with skills gaps, frequently updating advice and training. One article highlights “the need for leaders from the business, education, and political spheres to act in concert”, continuing to advise that “fundamentally, employers must identify and signal the skills they need”(Brookings: understanding the skills gap and what employers can do about it).

Again, the disconnect between employer and employee opinion is interesting, especially with 97% of employees stating they feel they are equipped with the right skills needed for the future. While larger, more established companies may weather this misalignment, the real threat is to smaller, newer businesses who might not be able to rely on a well-known reputation and wide customer database, to make up for the inevitable drop in revenue that comes with a misdirected workforce. Those looking to thrive need to plug this shortage and ensure there isn’t a disconnect between the skills they require versus the skills professionals think are needed.

For more specific information on salaries, benefits and skills required across Financial Services, access our 2023 Financial Services Salary & Benefits guide.

Getting on the same page for Legal

Our research shows the varying opinion on skillsets needed for the future, between employers and employees, continues across the Legal profession. With legal employers also citing working effectively (59%) and problem solving (50%) as the top two in-demand skills, in comparison to employees who state they feel people management (41%) and influencing (33%) are the most important.

Is a lack of communication and openness between manager and employee part of the problems? PwC’s latest Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey finds “[there are] sizeable pockets of the global workforce eager to learn new skills, embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and tackle new challenges — even as many companies fail to tolerate debate and dissenting ideas, or even small-scale failures”(PwC: 2023 is your workforce reinvention ready?). Employers need to ensure they foster an environment where communication is open, and ideas are taken on board.

For more specific information on salaries, benefits and skills required across the legal profession, access our 2023 Legal Salary & Benefits guide.

Mending the rift and standing out from the competition

Standing out from the competition involves looking beyond the theory book. A good mixture of technical and soft skills is essential – with the ability to cultivate relationships, tackle challenges and work well collaboratively being a priority from our research. Communication, emotional intelligence and the willingness to work with new technologies and artificial intelligence, remain key, as highlighted by Forbes (Forbes: skills you need to cultivate now to be competitive in 2023).

However, what remains vital is a clear alignment between values and culture, when deciding on the right fit for both employer and employee. Placing the right individual in an environment that works for them culturally and professionally, consists less of striving to tick every box, and more about ensuring both parties are ticking the right boxes for each other.

Whether you’re looking for a new challenge, searching for the very best talent in the industry, or want to discuss your career options, our specialist consultants are here to help.Speak to one of them today.