This week I launched a consultation in partnership with McDonald's and other leading businesses to help recognise and promote the importance of soft skills.
New research tells us that soft skills contribute £88billion to the UK economy today. Their economic contribution is predicted to increase to £109billion by 2020 and by then more than half a million workers will be held back by their lack of soft skills - this is why we need to act now.
It still surprises me that after 30 years in business, people continue to underestimate the value of soft skills not only for the UK economy but in business and employment too.
I left school at 16 with nothing but a few pounds in my pocket from selling my father's leather jackets in the school playground and an eagerness to start my own business. But what I lacked in academic qualifications, I made up for in essential skills: communication, time management, teamwork, decision-making and a desire to take responsibility for my own future.
These five soft skills are key drivers of productivity in any business and if you employ people who have great communication skills, the ability to make well thought out, conclusive decisions, a willingness to take ownership and responsibility, good time management and an eagerness to become part of a team then your business will prosper. Recognising these skills in your employees will result in a more productive workforce and could be the difference between retaining or losing clients.
Whenever I'm interviewing someone I always pay attention to the little things; if they maintain eye contact with me, if they could fit in with the company culture, how confidently they present themselves - of course, a good education is an added bonus but I'm more interested in how the person is going to deliver the job.
For example, I was recently hiring a Financial Manager and met a lot of candidates who on paper had the perfect qualifications for the position. But this person was going to be interacting with all of my businesses and so I needed to find someone who was not only qualified, but who also had the team work and communications experience to work well with people throughout the business.
The challenge for me was to find someone who recognised the value of their soft skills that were required hand in hand with their financial qualifications. 19 out of the 20 people I interviewed did not have this awareness.
I will not stop until I feel I've found the perfect candidate, and that goes for everyone who I have hired throughout my portfolio of businesses. The one thing they all have in common is an understanding and value of their own soft skills.
As an employee, illustrating your soft skills is just as important. Think of it like this, when you go for your annual review, what do you think your employer is judging you on? It's not what university you went to or what grades you achieved... those may help you through the door, but ultimately what helps you to accelerate your career path is how well you have applied your soft skills to your role.
Soft skills are a game changer for career development and business growth and it's time for employers, government, educators, parents - everyone - to take action to recognise, promote and improve them. Part of the success in my journey wasn't about my qualifications or experience, but it was the value I gave to soft skills that helped me get to where I am today.
If you want to get involved with the campaign and contribute to the consultation, visit backingsoftskills.co.uk.