If you were raised in a Singaporean education environment (or Asian for that matter), you know the emphasis placed on tests. While most believe this one and done assessment ends with school, we find ourselves in front of assessments every time we apply for a role.
Hard skills define as: The knowledge required to carry out a role. At this point, knowledge is cheap. Putting aside those that require high safety and accountability, skills have become so easily available that assessing facts and findings is in some cases is not as useful anymore.
How did we get here?
The first evidence of standardized tests come from 605 AD in China. The nationwide Imperial Exam instituted to select people for government positions. This quickly gained popularity in the west, accelerated by a move toward a more merit-based system, fueled by the need to phase out the spoils-based process. The latter, more outdated system favoured people who supported the previous incumbents of roles, regardless of skill.
Which brings us to skills. Specifically, hard skills. Important for all roles, and crucial for many. This article doesn’t intend to discredit its importance but rather explore the moving trends of our time.
Hard skills by nature are relatively the easier part of a candidate's profile to test for. In the eyes of many employers we’ve spoken to, it boils down to a simple question:
Can the candidate do the job?
This question is always going to be at the back of our minds. Regardless of qualification or experience, this can’t be answered objectively without knowing the candidate better. Employers are becoming more flexible with how many checkboxes candidates fill. Instead of exact requirements, as long as they are in the ballpark, the additional grey area can be filled via training and experience.
There's a lot of technology for this now and it's only getting smarter and faster. Tools like Test Gorilla, Adaface, HackerRank etc. look for hard skills and give you exactly what you’re looking for. Technical competency.
However, these tests can't be used for non-technical roles like; Sales, Business Development, Marketing, Management to name a few. And the ones that claim to, are questionable at best.
The Great Decline – Shelf-life of hard skills
The issue comes with the trends of our age. Living in the fastest moving era to have existed, knowledge is created, and invalidated in such short times due to the incredible innovation all around us. The shelf-life of skills has never been shorter.
In such a situation, and hard skills standing for proficiency in knowledge, we’re forced us to ask one more question on top of “Can they do this job?”
“How fast can this person learn?”
We put forth the idea of a different metric for testing; the background in an area of skills, coupled with an in-depth assessment of the candidate’s adaptability to learn. This would allow us to have a clearer outlook on whether the candidate is able to transfer/adapt specific skills to the task at hand.
At that point, the employer needs to take it one step further. How relevant will these hard skills remain in the bigger picture?
- Skills that need constant learning – shelf-life of less than ~ 2 years
- Skills that may require updating in a few years – shelf-life of ~ 5 years
- Skills that will still be relevant in the long run – shelf-life of more than ~ 10 years
Technical competencies that are maintained on a continuous basis would fall into the first category. These would be skills like specializing in certain coding languages. The syntax of these languages has to be constantly kept up with. If a candidate is a fast learner, roles that require skills in the first group would not need extensive assessments for specific hard skills.
We take solace in hard skills assessments simply because they offer higher levels of clarity. At Vita, we believe that with more people receiving higher education than ever in history, and hard skills becoming increasingly more common (coding ability, SEO marketing etc.), soft skills are evolving from ‘nice-to-have' to ‘need-to-have'.
“As our workplaces become more collaborative, employers need an employee who can not only perform the job well, but who also demonstrates sound communication, leadership and team-building qualities.” - David Jones, senior MD at Robert Half Asia Pacific.