The demand for soft skills training is growing fast. So fast that Deloitte predicts “soft skill intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.”
This is, in part, due to the fact that technology is getting better and better at technical skills, also known as hard skills. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report predicted that technology will displace roughly 85 million jobs by 2025.
But that same report also estimates that “97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms.” In essence, technology is humanizing work. We rely on computers to crunch our numbers and machines to operate our assembly lines, but code and circuitry have yet to replicate those uniquely human capabilities such as empathy, critical thinking, and nonverbal communication.
This surge in demand has created a skills gap, and this is where L&D comes in. As a learning leader, your role is to equip your workforce with the skills needed to stay competitive in the face of an unpredictable future. One way to accomplish this is by offering soft skills training.
Why soft skills training is a necessity
Data from our digital learning platform, Big Think+, provides an inside perspective on the skills that are of pressing importance to large organizations today. Namely, those that are human-centric.
Big Think+ offers lessons on over 20 capabilities, from sales and marketing to communication and creativity. Leadership is by far the most in-demand capability on the platform, with innovation, self-knowledge, and conflict resolution also leading the pack.
Technology is humanizing work.
The data points to a need that higher education and professional development programs aren’t meeting sufficiently — a need for precise, expert-led education in the kind of thinking and collaborating humans do best. Soft skills training aims to fill this gap.
The following challenges and disruptions are driving the need for this type of training further by the minute.
The Great Recession, the COVID-19 pandemic, and changing social norms helped create today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world of work. Organizations have responded to these challenges differently, with some getting left behind. Oftentimes, a fear of VUCA manifests in a culture that seeks safety in established practices and norms, rather than teaching workers how to prepare for the unexpected.
But a culture that is committed to lifelong learning keeps employees at the forefront of their fields, where they’re most likely to see inflection points coming. It encourages employees to have the self-motivation to focus on growth and be receptive during the learning process.
When all levels of an organization invest in these capabilities, it’s ultimately a win-win. Employees appreciate that their leaders offer soft skills training as an investment in their personal development, and leaders begin to trust employees more to pivot when unforeseen circumstances arise.
The digital paradigm
The last two decades have taken digital offerings from niche gratuity to business essential. Faster internet speeds let organizations share data, services, and products at unprecedented rates. Social media platforms have created a whole new marketing landscape, and new digital marketplaces have expanded customer bases worldwide.
A focus on building employees’ digital fluency is the first step in navigating this new paradigm. For example, while digital tools allow us to communicate over vast distances to create remote offices, they also lack the nuances of face-to-face communication. Digital fluency helps employees bring the best practices of face-to-face communication online. It also helps them evaluate sources and maintain cybersecurity at a time when disruptive technology has brought unique challenges to each.
The previously cited Future of Jobs Report estimates that by 2025 “the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal.” But integrating technology is never a one-to-one exchange, where a human worker is substituted with a compatible machine. Roles will gradually shift until the work of humans and machines is complementary.
Soft skills training can help employees develop creativity and innovation, which in turn helps reveal new ways to integrate technology for a more competitive edge. Additionally, employees that strengthen their critical thinking skills will become vital for challenging the assumptions that may hinder a new technology from achieving its potential.
Evolving organizational architectures
Organizational architectures are becoming less rigid and more lateral. This trend is partly in response to generational differences — millennials value autonomy, and when they entered the workforce en masse, many organizations adjusted. The digital paradigm played its role, too. For example, the exodus to remote work in 2020 left many leaders reevaluating how their teams could function cohesively.
Such architectural challenges require pioneering leadership with skills like executive presence to help team members remain accountable and motivated, no matter where they’re located on the org chart.
Though the subject of much debate and political strife, globalization represents unprecedented opportunities for organizations to reach across increasingly porous national and cultural barriers. However, expansions are not without pitfalls. Many organizations have launched into other countries only to discover that their homegrown strategies were ineffective or unwelcome. Such lessons are costly — depleting resources along with regional goodwill — but avoidable.
With soft skills training that builds emotional intelligence, L&D can develop teams that understand how to navigate other cultures respectfully. Sales, marketing, and customer experience strategies can be modified to better suit new markets. And if necessary, employees can use design thinking to create entirely unique experiences for the new markets.
We’ve discussed the importance of soft skills in the workplace. Now the question becomes: How to improve soft skills? Rich Lesser of Boston Consulting Group — Glassdoor’s top CEO in 2021 — answers that learning programs should focus on advancing employees’ insightfulness.
“An insight worker is someone who is not just accountable for accumulating knowledge and synthesizing it, but for real problem-solving,” Lesser describes in a Big Think+ lesson. He goes on to say that such workers possess the ability to “work laterally across boundaries [and] adapt very quickly to new information.”
These abilities are quickly becoming vital skills in business, and there is a wealth of resources available for developing them. Soft skills training comes in many different formats, such as elearning video courses, in-person coaching sessions, and instructor-led workshops.
The most impactful interventions will be ongoing and regularly accessible, so learners can reinforce the skills and habits they’re learning over time. Microlearning resources, such as the expert-led video lessons in the Big Think+ catalog, are an effective solution.
Whichever modality you choose, soft skills training is a solid investment for developing transformation-ready employees and equipping the entire organization to adapt to a business world that is evolving before our eyes.