Implement soft skills training to get the employees you want

April 30, 2018
Both hard and soft skills are essential to operating a successful business, but many employers do not train in areas such as soft skills or human resources because they expect employees to know how to behave on the job.

Teaching an employee to replace a transmission is a systematic process with defined steps that should be taken. Success can be measured if all the steps are followed and the car performs as it should.  

But does your business have a process in place to train employees how to have positive interactions with customers, resolve problems with fellow employees or successfully lead a team?  

Nobody is born with these “soft skills.” Just like technical skills, soft skills must be learned. A person must understand soft skills and put them into practice in real life, and continue to refine those skills through experience and ongoing learning.  

In the automotive industry, soft skills are all too often overlooked and under-trained. Both hard and soft skills are essential to operating a successful business, but many employers do not train in areas such as soft skills or human resources because they expect employees to know how to behave on the job. Because soft skills are important to every employee and ultimately your business, it’s important to take the time and resources necessary to get your employees up to speed on these important skills. Whether part time or full time, new to their career or approaching retirement, everyone can use a refresher on their soft skills. 

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills can be defined as the personal qualities that enable an employee to interact effectively and in harmony with staff, co-workers and customers in the workplace. 

Some of the most important soft skills in the workplace include: 

  • Communication. Probably the most important soft skill anyone can possess is good communication. In very simple terms, communication is the relaying of information from a source to a recipient. Communication comes in many forms, including spoken/verbal (face-to-face, phone, web chat), non-verbal (body language, facial expressions, posture, attire, appearance), written (letters, email, text), or visual (maps, signage, logos).  
    Ideally, the desired outcome of any form of communication should always be mutual understanding. It is the job of the communicator to deliver a clear message, but it is also the receiver’s responsibility to receive and interpret the message accurately. Employees can improve their communication skills by becoming better listeners. Communication means working up and down the chain of command in your workplace, speaking with everyone in the same respectful manner.
  • Problem-solving/Critical thinking. A very important soft skill in the workplace is being able to analyze a situation and make an informed decision. In automotive service, employees need to be able to think on their feet, determine problems, and strategize solutions quickly. This skill also requires being adaptable and flexible to changing situations, such as filling in for an employee who is on vacation or taking on extra work during busy times. Critical thinkers express a desire and willingness to learn new skills and abilities. 
  • Collaboration/Teamwork. Employees should be able to work effectively with the people around them, as well as the customer who walks in the door—even when there is a conflict. When people work as a team, the business is more successful. An employee who says, “That’s not my job,” on a regular basis isn’t going to be a valuable member of any team. Training your employees to work well together fosters respect, which creates unity and loyalty, and lifts morale. 
  • Attitude/Positivity. Attitude and positivity can boost your entire company or cast a negative air about the workplace. An important soft skill is being friendly toward others and pleasant to be around. This doesn’t mean everyone is smiling all day and humming a cheery tune; rather, it means a general attitude of positivity. People who walk around with a negative attitude are not approachable by other employees or customers and leave a lasting negative impression on everyone they meet.
  • Work ethic. A strong work ethic means that employees are focused, organized and complete tasks on time. They follow direction, are dependable, and dedicated to the work. They also don’t distract others while they are working. Time management is an important component of a strong work ethic. Unless they are sick or have a scheduled vacation day, employees with a strong work ethic show up to work on time every day. They communicate if they are sick or running late. 

The professionalism an employee displays is the culmination of all the above soft skills being put to use in front of customers, vendors and others. The perception others have when they interact with your staff dictates how people view your company and your brand. 

Most people learn their soft skills from parents, friends, family and peers, and that can sometimes mean they are learning bad habits, poor communication skills and a disregard for those around them. When that is the case, it is even more important that the business invests in training the staff member on proper soft skills, because each employee is an ambassador of your company’s brand. 

Who needs HR skills?

In addition to the many soft skills necessary to run a successful business, there are many skills associated with human resources that are essential to the workplace. You don’t need to be in a specifically titled “HR” position to learn these valuable skills. Here are some: 

  • Leadership/People Management. Not every job includes leading or supervising other employees, but every employee can emulate the leadership qualities that good leaders possess. Important leadership qualities include effective and efficient decision making, as well as being able to handle the people in your workplace effectively. By getting to know your co-workers, you can make use of their strengths and accommodate their challenges. It is very motivating for employees when they think someone “has their back” or is watching out for them. 
    In the automotive industry, there are countless opportunities for mentoring. Whether through a formal mentoring program or during everyday interactions among employees, there are numerous ways that employers can “grow their own” and demonstrate leadership by example. One way to motivate employees is to give them access to training; you can demonstrate that you are making an investment in them and their career. 
  • Conflict management/resolution. Every employee will benefit from training that improves their ability to solve problems, mediate conflicts, and resolve issues in respectful and appropriate ways. In a workplace, differing personalities can lead to disaster if they are not managed. Poor reactions to everyday situations in the workplace tend to build walls rather than bridge communication between people.  
  • Ethics. For those who work in human resources, ethics in the workplace includes everything from using discretion regarding an employee’s personal information to following laws regarding hiring and firing. For all employees, though, ethics is something they encounter every day. From being responsible with tools and customer vehicles to stopping gossip when it happens in the shop, employees can be trained to reach higher levels in their career. 

Taking a look in the mirror

In your shop, can you relate to any of these scenarios? 

  • Your shop receives negative reviews that aren’t related to your technical expertise. 
  • You have a low percentage of repeat customers. 
  • You’re losing employees who say the work environment is hostile. 
  • You have employees who are great at their jobs, but other employees can’t stand to be around them. 

In the workplace, these scenarios are a detriment to the bottom line. A customer service representative at the front desk may have the skills required to answer the phone but will lose customers if he or she is always texting on a cell phone while customers are waiting to interact. A technician who can fix a car at lightning speed will leave a negative impression if he speaks to a customer in a disrespectful way. A manager will lose good employees if she belittles them. 

Customers have so many choices for service. In the competitive auto service industry, soft skills may be the difference between customers and technicians choosing you or the shop down the block. All things being equal, price and location aren’t necessarily what people look for these days.  

Training is a benefit to all

Soft skills come naturally to some, but most people need guidance in taking these valuable skills to the next level. As part of a customer-centered strategy, businesses should recognize that training their employees is a proactive way to serve their customers, and part of an overall winning strategy. 

The good news is that there is training available for all aspects of soft skills. Online training, for example, can help your employees learn valuable soft skills in as little as 15-20 minutes. When offering ongoing training for hard skills, technical updates or safety, don’t forget the soft skills. Raising the level of soft skills in your employees takes time, practice and effort from employees, and a commitment from management, but you’ll see the results both in your interactions at work—and the bottom line. 

About the Author

Kyle Holt

Kyle Holt is president of S/P2. Each year, S/P2 provides online training to more than 175,000 workers and students nationwide on industry-specific safety and pollution prevention, ethics, soft skills, and human resources topics, as well as an online workplace mentoring program for the automotive industry. S/P2 serves the automotive service, collision repair, heavy-duty/diesel, welding, construction, cosmetology, and culinary trades. S/P2 also provides S/P2 Careers, a resume database of tens of thousands of entry-level technicians looking for career opportunities.

Sponsored Recommendations

Best Body Shop and the 360-Degree-Concept

Spanesi ‘360-Degree-Concept’ Enables Kansas Body Shop to Complete High-Quality Repairs

How Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrow Collision Center, Achieves Their Spot-On Measurements

Learn how Fender Bender Operator of the Year, Morrison Collision Center, equipped their new collision facility with “sleek and modern” equipment and tools from Spanesi Americas...

ADAS Applications: What They Are & What They Do

Learn how ADAS utilizes sensors such as radar, sonar, lidar and cameras to perceive the world around the vehicle, and either provide critical information to the driver or take...

Banking on Bigger Profits with a Heavy-Duty Truck Paint Booth

The addition of a heavy-duty paint booth for oversized trucks & vehicles can open the door to new or expanded service opportunities.