By Mario R. Gravelle

CERIC survey delves into employer attitudes about the soft skills they want and their responsibility to provide training

The Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) supports research into attitudes about career development matters in Canada. Environics Research Group recently carried out a survey of Canadian business leaders on CERIC’s behalf to surface their recruiting practices, tactics they employ to find the best employees for their needs, as well as the training and career management opportunities they provide. This article highlights how the 500 business leaders surveyed responded to questions about “soft skills” (i.e. personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee and compatible to work with). Here are some notable discoveries:

Most important soft skills? And the winners are…

There is widespread agreement among employers that “ideal” employees have a good blend of technical as well as soft skills. CERIC’s survey asked several questions about the latter in order to uncover how they play a role in hiring and career advancement. For instance, participants were asked “what soft skills are most important to you in an employee?” The four most frequent answers are “positive attitude,” “communication skills,” “teamwork skills” and a “strong work ethic.” Differences in opinion do emerge when examining the findings according to region (British Columbia, Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada), location (Rural, Outside Major City and Major City) and the size of the business. For example, Figure #1 reveals that over one-third of those from Ontario believe in the value of “communications skills” while fewer than one-quarter from Quebec and the Prairies share the same opinion. The data also shows that “interpersonal/customer skills” are much less important in Quebec (7%) than the rest of Canada (Atlantic Canada and Prairies 19% respectively, Ontario 21% and British Columbia 25%).

Figure 1

According to this figure, similar viewpoints emerge across the three locations except that “teamwork skills” are most highly prized by those in Major Cities (34%) compared to those in Rural settings (25%) and Outside Major Cities (20%). The greatest variances exist when examining the responses by the size of employers surveyed. A “positive attitude,” for example, appears to be much less important for the largest firms versus those with fewer than 50 employees. Conversely, the former placed much greater standing on “teamwork skills” than the latter.

What are employers doing to enhance soft skills?

The CERIC survey included a segment of questions pertaining to workplace training initiatives. Those employers who indicated that their firms provide training were asked whether these were intended to develop technical abilities, soft skills or both. According to respondents, employees are much more likely to be able to access technical skills training programs compared to programs dedicated to improving their soft skills. Moreover, Figure #2 shows that a significantly greater proportion of firms in British Colombia offer soft skills training to their workers. Another interesting difference exists when examining the findings by location as just over twice as many employers from Rural settings versus those from Major Cities stated their businesses offered soft skill training opportunities.

Figure 2

The data above reveals that business size has the most significant impact on the type of training provided by employers. Specifically, smaller firms (up to 10 employees and from 10 to 49 employees) are much more likely than much larger firms (100 to 499 employees and 500+ employees) to only provide technical training. Employees are also much more likely to access both types of training if they work for larger businesses.


Mario R. Gravelle is Learning & Innovation Analyst at The Counselling Foundation of Canada. He is responsible for supporting the reception of funding requests as well as managing the Foundation’s grants. Gravelle likewise supports knowledge transfer activities to promote the work accomplished by the organization’s grant recipients. He is completing his doctoral dissertation in history at York University (BA from Concordia University and MA from the University of Ottawa). The Foundation proudly supports CERIC and its programs.