July 04, 2024 •

9 min reading

Why soft skills are the new hard skills in hospitality

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What is more important for your career progression today? High-tech skills for working with AI and Big Data or learning to work well with others and solve problems? The answer may surprise you. While it’s true that learning to use the latest technology is a big focus for upskilling these days, the skills that matter most for the future of work are not hard skills; they are people skills and cognitive skills known as soft skills.

With technological advances shaping the future of the workforce landscape, the definition of essential skills is changing rapidly. Where technical abilities once reigned supreme, soft skills have quickly emerged as the cornerstone of professional success, especially within the hospitality sector.

This shift marks a new understanding that interpersonal skills, adaptability, and communication are not just beneficial but essential for thriving in today’s highly competitive environment. Soft skills have a vital role in shaping the future of the workforce; they have gone from nice-to-have to must-have qualifications.

The article delves into the evolution of skill sets in the modern workforce, highlighting how hospitality education has become a frontrunner in equipping professionals with the necessary soft skills. It further explores why these competencies have become the new hard skills and the implications of this transition for individuals aiming to excel in the hospitality industry.

Additionally, we will share practical strategies for enhancing soft skills and give suggestions to help you prepare effectively for the future.

According to a report by the WEF, in collaboration with Coursera, “Increasingly, emerging technologies such as generative AI are reshaping workforce demands, but employers are placing greater emphasis on “soft” skills (see Figure 4.8). These skills allow companies to respond to change and are resistant to automation.”


WEF Future of Jobs Report 2023

The evolution of skill sets in the modern workforce

What are soft skills and hard skills?

Hard skills are concrete abilities specific to certain tasks and are often proven through certifications, such as knowing particular software for a front desk agent or maintenance procedures for housekeeping. Soft skills, however, encompass social, emotional, and cognitive skills crucial for effective interpersonal interactions. They are generally acquired through experience rather than formal training.

Historical overview of skill valuation

The history of skills development and valuation spans centuries with the evolution of various industries and civilizations. From the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, where hospitality and trade were vital for existence, to the sophisticated military and agricultural developments of the Roman Empire and later Europe, the development and measurement of skills have been an integral part of human society.

After all, how could empires grow and commerce thrive if people didn’t have the skills to build, navigate, fabricate, and exchange goods and services? Throughout history, the value of different skills has continually adapted to the changing needs of society and the economy. Technological advancements significantly shaped the evolution of hard skills, but soft skills have always been the key to collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving, which allows society to advance.

The shift towards a more integrative skillset approach

In recent years, hiring managers in the hospitality industry and almost every other sector have recognized the increasing importance of soft skills. Emotional Intelligence (EI), including empathy and resilience, is now considered as crucial as technical skills for providing excellent customer service.

According to the Future of Jobs Report by the WEF, citing Coursera, “Increasingly, emerging technologies such as generative AI are reshaping workforce demands, but employers are placing greater emphasis on “soft” skills. These skills allow companies to respond to change and resist automation.” Looking at job descriptions on LinkedIn and other job search portals, we see that soft skills are almost as highly valued as professional qualifications.

Integrating soft skills into the workforce is essential for navigating modern hospitality management's complexities, which demands adaptability and a deep understanding of diverse cultural nuances.

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Hospitality education is the pioneer in soft skills development

The revolution in hospitality education

Hospitality education started with hotel management schools focusing on the hard skills and management competencies needed to run daily operations. Soft skills were just a by-product of learning to deal with customers and colleagues. However, industry leaders and hiring managers have come to recognize that soft skills play a critical role in the industry.

Hospitality and tourism are all about making people feel happy, welcome, and understood. Therefore, it is crucial to have employees with a “people-pleasing” attitude. This hospitality attitude shapes a person’s relationship with co-workers and extends through the customer experience.

Hospitality programs, such as EHL’s Bachelor Degree in International Hospitality Management, now integrate comprehensive interpersonal skills, communication, and leadership training to prepare students for real-world challenges. This holistic approach ensures that graduates are technically proficient and adept at managing relationships and leading teams.

Integrating soft skills into curriculum

Many educational institutions have responded to these shifting employer demands by embedding soft skills training within their hospitality curricula. Examples include courses on emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and customer service excellence. By making soft skills development a part of the curriculum, hospitality programs equip students with the necessary tools to excel in hospitality management, where customer satisfaction is paramount.

Real-world application and internships

Case studies and practical courses in hospitality education train students on how to engage their soft skills in real-world scenarios. These examples highlight how soft skills like adaptability, problem-solving, and attention to detail directly contribute to guest satisfaction and operational success. However, real-world experience and frequent use are essential to mastering soft skills.

Internships are a handy tool for putting theoretical soft skills into practice. It’s easy to imagine how to deal with an angry customer when you’re sitting in a classroom; it’s a whole different story when that person is growing red-faced in front of you. Internships give students a setting to practice using their soft skills in a real-world business and multicultural environment. Interns learn from their emotional reactions and mistakes as learning blocks to prepare them for the next time a challenging situation arises. In day-to-day operations, interns test their soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, and resilience, and perfect the skills through practice.


Why soft skills have become the new hard skills

The growing importance of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence has become a pivotal element in the hospitality industry, where understanding and managing emotions enhances guest experiences and team dynamics.

High emotional intelligence enables hospitality professionals to be everything the industry needs. It allows them to connect deeply with guests, anticipate needs, and manage interpersonal challenges effectively. They embody EQ as inspiring leaders, cooperative team players, and excellent service providers.

Soft skills in leadership and team dynamics

Leadership within the hospitality sector increasingly relies on soft skills such as empathy, communication, and teamwork. These skills are crucial for managing teams and ensuring operations align with customer satisfaction goals. Influential leaders use emotional intelligence to inspire and drive their teams towards excellence, fostering a positive work environment and enhancing overall team performance.

A lack of EQ can be catastrophic regarding leadership and team dynamics. A troubling new report found that nearly one-third of mid-career employees across all professional services quit their jobs last year (2023), and many left without another job lined up. “70 percent of these professionals (between 30 and 45 years old) cited frustration with their boss and company culture as their top two reasons for quitting. And almost 94 percent of respondents felt uncomfortable sharing these concerns with leadership.” A lack of emotional intelligence in leadership greatly impacts employees.

It’s also a significant factor for success. Emotionally intelligent leaders make for happier teams and healthier company cultures. According to studies by Harvard Business Review and Gallup:

  • Companies with happy employees outperform the competition by 20%;
  • 70% of executives say that employee engagement is critical to their company’s success;
  • Happy salespeople produce 37% greater sales;
  • 83% of millennials consider work-life balance the most important factor in evaluating a potential job.

In today’s employment climate, where workers prioritize their happiness and happiness trickles down to make better profits, the solution is clear: having a high EQ is a must for leadership roles in the hospitality industry.

Embracing technological advancements without losing human connections

As technology permeates the hospitality industry, maintaining a balance between automated solutions and human interactions is essential. While technology can streamline operations and improve efficiency, the human element remains irreplaceable in creating personalized and memorable guest experiences. Hospitality professionals must adapt to technological changes while preserving the core values of personal service and guest engagement.

Advancements like automated check-in kiosks and smart room controls can enhance operational efficiency,but they should complement rather than replace the human touch. By integrating technology thoughtfully, hospitality professionals can free up time to focus on delivering genuine, personalized interactions that leave a lasting impression on guests.

It's essential for the industry to strike a balance, leveraging technology to improve processes while preserving the art of hospitality through meaningful human connections. This approach ensures that as the industry evolves, the heartwarming experiences and personal touch that guests cherish remain at the forefront.


Preparing for the future: Strategies to enhance soft skills in your career

Self-assessment and continuous learning

Soft skills in hospitality management are crucial, and there are several ways you can test your skills and improve them:

These tools help professionals understand the best skills and areas that need development and focus, encouraging a balanced view of oneself. No matter which method you choose, continuous learning through feedback from peers, management, and friends is vital, as it provides insights into personal soft skills and areas for improvement.

Seeking opportunities for practice and feedback

Practicing soft skills in real-world scenarios is essential. Hospitality professionals should seek opportunities that allow them to apply their skills in various situations, such as:

  • Requesting new responsibilities or team leadership opportunities to gain confidence
  • Seeking mentorship and coaching for personalized feedback from industry experts

Anything you can do to further your awareness of your soft skill strengths and weaknesses is definitely a good step towards enhancing your most valuable skill set.

Leveraging hospitality education for comprehensive skill development

Hospitality education plays a pivotal role in soft skill development. Modern teaching strategies in these programs emphasize interactivity and participation, which significantly impacts students' motivation and enhances soft skills.

Educators in hospitality should integrate soft skills training with technical skills, making lessons more engaging and effective. This approach improves soft skills, enhances overall academic performance, and prepares students for successful careers in the hospitality industry.


In conclusion...

While technical proficiency will continue to play an essential role in the job market, soft skills are just as crucial to success in the hospitality industry. Consequently, hospitality education is leading the way in preparing students to start their careers with these essential skills. The desirability and success of hospitality graduates in other sectors also highlights the importance of soft skills, emotional intelligence, leadership, communication, and adaptability. These core hospitality skills enhance career prospects and the customer experience, making them the new hard skills of almost every service sector.

As the hospitality industry continues to evolve alongside technological advancements, the human element, characterized by personal service and engagement, remains irreplaceable, cementing the value of soft skills. For professionals looking to excel in this dynamic industry, fostering these skills becomes beneficial and indispensable. Therefore, embracing continuous learning and self-improvement in soft skills is paramount for anyone aspiring to make a significant impact in hospitality. This article serves as both a guide and an inspiration for embracing the transformative power of soft skills in building successful careers and creating unforgettable guest experiences.

Written by

Consultant - EHL Education Consulting

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