Interpersonal skills, empathy and resilience are strongly desired by employers as they look towards business recovery. Riccarda Zezza discusses how these ‘soft’ skills can be developed in every day life.
With advances in technology and societal priorities, jobs are constantly evolving – meaning it’s now near-impossible to just learn one skill and settle into a career for life. The pandemic has added another twist to the theme but rapid change was already established.
According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, 87% of companies are experiencing skills gaps or expect them within a few years, and this tumultuous job market has birthed a new desire from employers to replace traditional skill sets with “soft” skills.
The key differentiator is that these don’t relate to what work you do, but how you work. They include interpersonal skills, emotional-based skills – like empathy and resilience – as well as time management, communication and many more. These skills aren’t specific to one job alone, and leave workers well-prepared for a rapidly changing landscape where adapting to new technologies and environments will be pivotal.
PwC’s 2020 Annual CEO Survey talks in significant depth about the growing need for soft skills to address the imminent skill gap, with a key take away being that organisations need to build transferable skills that will continue to remain important however technology changes the workplace.
The skills needed today to cope with tomorrow are creativity, problem solving and an understanding of how digital technology can be used. Carol Stubbings, joint global leader of PwC’s people and organisation practice, puts it well: “It’s about people, not about jobs – because jobs will change or have already changed”.
Looking specifically at one country, it’s possible for the detrimental effects of this skills gap to be quantified financially. A report from the Foundation for Young Australians shows that the skills today’s professionals are learning won’t be of use within a decade, with its CEO Jan Owen believing that soft skills would be more important to learn. Despite Australia’s $91bn annual investment in education and training, there is still a significant number of young people who are not finding jobs because of this, which is short-changing the country’s economy by $4.5 billion a year.
Covid-19 is undoubtedly playing a significant role in this transformation, too. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown is accelerating the automation and digitalisation of many industries – meaning that an unpredictable, constantly changing career landscape has become a reality.
Employees can survive by focusing on their adaptable soft skills, and employers, likewise, can survive by investing in their people and making them resilient to the chaos. Businesses should ask themselves, “do we have the capabilities to thrive in the new normal?”
The emotional element of soft skills are more important than ever because of this. With workforces facing increased stress through remote working and job uncertainty, organisations must ensure employees feel cared for and valued, and likewise, for employees to prove they can act with grace and compassion to clients, suppliers, and teammates.
At Lifeed, we conducted research involving more than 1,500 employees, from European companies such EY and Kia, about their attitudes towards work in lockdown. The results indicated an acutely emotionally aware workforce; 83% expected their company to make room for change upon return from lockdown, and 69% expected their company to make space for people’s thoughts and feelings to facilitate the return to the office.
This also reflects the importance of soft skills for leaders at the very top. Traditional business leaders have often been considered obsessed with the end result, in spite of how easy they are to work with, but now leaders must also be emotionally intelligent and highly ethical – which some refer to as the New Alpha.
Nurturing soft skills
So, how does one develop and nurture soft skills? The fact of the matter is that life itself, and the experiences we go through, are the breeding ground for soft skills. For example, becoming a parent develops skills like self-awareness, time management and complex problem-solving, while caring for an elderly relative develops patience, communication and self-confidence.
Going through the lockdown experience has also trained soft skills in us all, like self-determination, flexibility, and empathy. The key is to get employees to constantly reflect on where such skills they use could be applied to a workplace context.
Now leaders must also be emotionally intelligent and highly ethical.”
My company works to do just that through digital training programmes. The Italian branch of Danone implemented our programme for new parents to reflect on the skills learned during this experience and found quantifiable increases in various skills, including decision making (+15%), delegation (+35%), managing complex situations (+10%), empathy (+35%) and mental agility (+20%).
It’s clear that soft skills are becoming absolutely essential for the workforce of today and indeed tomorrow. By focusing on these, and considering how they can be applied to work tasks, employers and employees alike can be prepared for the uncertainty ahead.
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