Article: Shopee's Agatha Soh on the top priority soft skills and how to hire and develop them

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Shopee's Agatha Soh on the top priority soft skills and how to hire and develop them

Cultural fit—the ability to work well with the people a candidate is joining—is a real priority even in a talent-strapped sector like tech, and this means assessing and training for soft skills. Agatha Soh, Regional Head of People at Shopee, shares a bit about what this might mean in practice.
Shopee's Agatha Soh on the top priority soft skills and how to hire and develop them

It's become standard practice for many tech firms to counter the tech talent crunch by offering training and development opportunities to the public. But increasingly, they are also looking into how to extend that training and development to the area of soft skills. Fast-growing regional e-commerce platform Shopee, for example, has been hosting tech challenges open to the public for several years now, and getting its tech teams to conduct internal training on technical skills—but it is also seeking out the soft skills that will make for a good cultural as well as technical fit.

We asked Agatha Soh, Shopee's Regional Head of People, how Shopee is making that balance happen between the business-critical hard skills and the less obviously glamorous, but equally important soft skills. Here's what she shared.

In a technology-based field where IT skills are in great demand, what's your take on balancing the need for hard skills with the need for soft skills?

It’s important to find candidates who are both a technical fit and a cultural fit.

In the technical aspect, prospective candidates must possess the necessary skills to be able to do the job they’re applying for competently. To ensure that the next generation of tech talents is equipped with the necessary technical skills for the digital economy, Shopee continuously nurtures tech talents through a series of initiatives. These include the National Data Science Challenge, I’m The Best Coder Challenge, and Shopee Code League. 

In the cultural aspect, we value and welcome people of different experiences and backgrounds as we strongly believe in the power of diversity to drive innovation. At the same time, they must be able to work well with the team they will be joining. 

Our people are the foundation of our progress—we believe in developing both their hard and soft skills so they can drive the organization and industry forward.

If you had a wish list for the soft skills your company's employees should have, what are the top three items on it? Why?

In the ever-changing tech and e-commerce space, these are some of the soft skills that we believe all Shopee employees should possess:

Adaptability: As e-commerce becomes increasingly intertwined in many different aspects of our lives, the industry will continue to move and grow at a rapid pace. As a company, we have to be very agile to stay ahead of trends, and employees need to be curious and adaptable to constant changes. 

Empathy: As we scale across the region, we welcome employees from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Hence, we should all look to nurture work relationships, have respect for one another, and lean on one another to grow together.

Self-awareness: We believe in helping all our employees grow and develop in their careers. At the same time, they need to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and where their areas of improvement lie. To help employees do so, we have a wide range of Learning & Development training programs available under Shopee Academy and Techademy, which include both soft skills and technical skills. We also encourage honest and frequent feedback, so we can help one another progress. 

Between hiring someone with the soft skills you want, and training someone you already employ in those skills, which is preferable? How do the challenges and benefits compare?

Our top priority is to hire candidates who have the right technical skills and cultural fit at the time. Being in a fast-paced industry, we also look out for candidates who have the potential or have expressed willingness to go beyond their current roles.

This demonstrates their teachability and positive learning attitude, which will make it easy for them to pick up other relevant soft skills through our training programs in the future. 

The e-commerce industry is a constantly evolving one, and we want to prime all our employees for long-term success. As such, having a penchant for learning is extremely important. We support employees of all levels to continually upskill themselves and take on new challenges by encouraging career rotations and through programs such as the Company-Led Training program

Could you share some thoughts on how to better equip managers and HR professionals for identifying, assessing, and developing employees' soft skills?

To identify the soft skills a prospective candidate possesses and avoid mismatched expectations, hiring managers and HR professionals should be clear and honest about the role and team culture. Prospective candidates should also speak to at least one other member of the working team to help assess their soft skills and cultural fit. 

Most importantly, managers should include soft skills assessment in reviews and ensure that the company has the right programs in place to help develop these skills. 

With L&D being increasingly digitalized, how do you see technology being leveraged to help people develop the specific soft skills they need?

Technology allows us to widen our reach and integrate different forms of learning into our programs. At Shopee, we leverage it to organize training for employees across the globe, allowing them to interact and learn from one another online. We also utilize a variety of online tools to facilitate and enrich our training sessions. 

With the advancement of technology, employees can learn at their own time, based on their own learning styles. They are also empowered to pursue their own interests through external programs, including government-subsidized programs such as SkillsFuture. 

We will continue to improve and innovate our Learning & Development programs, to help all employees grow and develop the necessary skills required for success in today’s digital world.

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Topics: Skilling, #SoftSkillsTransform, #SuccessAtScale

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