Leading Through Learning

Creativity, courage, curiosity.

Odds are, these traits aren’t among the top talents listed on your resume. But in the future, “soft skills” may be just as critical to success in the construction industry as “hard skills” or technical competencies.

Sound hard to believe? Soft skills, commonly referenced as interpersonal or social skills, involve the way people interact and communicate with one another, both verbally and non-verbally. Earlier this year, business giant Mark Cuban predicted that in just a decade, a “liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree.” 

Boston College, Harvard University and the University of Michigan conducted a study that reinforced the importance of soft skills. They concluded that companies providing soft skills training can expect a 12 percent increase in employee productivity and retention and a 250 percent return on investment. 

At Balfour Beatty, we’ve observed an increased need for our employees to enhance their soft skills due to three major industry shifts. Labor shortages are forcing project teams to do more with less and become a strong, cohesive unit much more quickly than ever before. At the same time, clients and partners are recognizing that construction is not a commodity business based only on price. Rather, it’s a service business driven by relationships and intentional behaviors. Advances in technology and a diverse, multi-generational workforce are also transforming our industry at a rapid pace. 

Traditionally, contractors have focused exclusively on job-specific hard skills training. In a business that depends on precision, technical skills like placing concrete or wiring an electrical panel are indispensable, and that will never change. 

In fact, technical training and standardized SOPs have enabled Balfour Beatty teammates to ensure consistency across our US operations. If a client hires our team to build a high-rise in the Mid-Atlantic and execute an interior upfit in the Northwest, they can expect a uniform approach to project management. And so can our trade partners.

“But what happens if there’s a team conflict or you need to coach an employee struggling with performance?” considers Tammy Yang, vice president, organizational development for Balfour Beatty's US Buildings operations. “We found that many employees weren’t prepared to handle these situations or didn’t feel comfortable doing so.” 

It’s questions like these that led Balfour Beatty’s learning and development team to implement a new, virtual soft skills training program in 2018. Hundreds of videos are now available to employees at the click of a mouse, allowing them to conveniently balance work priorities with professional development goals. This catalog does not replace but rather complements live, classroom training. 

Improved soft skills aren’t just enhancing value for our clients. Training is equally important to the employee experience. It signals that an employer cares for their people and is devoted to their success—now and for the long term. Holistically, training is an integral part of how Balfour Beatty is building a people-first culture. 

Balfour Beatty is also preparing for the company’s future through an executive leader development program launching in 2019. Designed around 12 core competencies and six character traits, the four-month program not only facilitates effective succession planning but also builds stronger leadership in the present. A key goal of this program is to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive leadership team that drives innovation by embracing differences and challenging the status quo.

In the not too distant past, construction was very much a “command and control” business. Today, we understand that a construction project without adequate communication, a lack of teamwork and an inability to navigate change is destined for trouble. We know our industry can be anchored in processes while prioritizing people. 

Soft skills may be more complex to learn, define and measure, but by intentionally nurturing them, Balfour Beatty is building the capabilities that will be required to ensure both employee and company success into the future.