The pace of change in the world can be dizzying. Particularly when we consider the effects that digital technologies are having on the world of work. While we might be vaguely aware that big changes are coming, it can be difficult to fully grasp the challenges so we can begin preparing for an uncertain future.
To illustrate how seismic these changes really are, the World Economic Forum has gone so far as to suggest that technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing are all converging to cause what they’ve called the Fourth Industrial Revolution (the third was the proliferation of digital technology in the 80s and 90s).
What we know for certain is that an uncertain future will require every individual to augment their current skills while developing a host of new ones to meet this future head on.
Here are five reasons why we believe we need to focus on developing our workforce’s soft skills to help our organisations survive in a technology driven world.
Stopping the brain drain
Ironically, disruptive technologies are expected to threaten many of the people in what we’d consider “good jobs” first. We’ve seen how fintech is disrupting the banking and financial services sector, causing many experienced and highly qualified professionals to seek new careers.
While it might seem that artificial intelligence is making human expertise irrelevant, we can help these experts to transition to new roles where we can further harness their knowledge. We can enable them to complement the work of machines by combining digital skill sets with soft skills such as problem solving, collaboration, and communication.
Demand has begun to outstrip supply
A recent report by Deloitte Access Economics indicates that demand for soft skills such as self-management, problem solving and critical thinking is already significantly exceeding supply. Most notably, the supply gap reaches 45 percentage points for communication skills.
The Department of Employment’s Survey of Employers’ Recruitment Experiences found a quarter of entry level employers in Australia report having difficulty filling vacancies because applicants lack employability skills. These employers particularly emphasised the importance of people skills as being essential for the roles they were hiring for.
The innovation imperative
In a digitally driven world, your organisation’s ability to innovate will dictate your ability to seize new opportunities and operate more efficiently. There’s a reason why the world’s richest man runs a company that was started in his garage. To replicate that kind of success, you need to give your people the tools and skills to think like a start-up entrepreneur.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report found that three of the top skills to train your workforce for will be:
- Complex problem-solving
- Critical thinking
Stopping the revolving door
Research from the Institute of Managers and Leaders has found that 21% of staff attrition is due to frustration with the lack of professional development and training. Meanwhile, Gallup has estimated the cost of replacing an employee is anywhere between 50% and 250% of their annual salary.
If we know that 63% of all jobs will be soft skill intensive by 2030, according to Deloitte, we know that a significant portion of our workforce will require some form of soft skill training. Providing this training not only helps your people to perform their roles more effectively, but it enables you to keep them engaged and retain them for longer.
Providing the human touch to customers
It may be tempting to hand over more of our processes to smart machines, but your customers will still expect to deal with real people. The human touch is likely to become much more valuable for building relationships with customers, as people will inevitably seek out businesses that are able to provide meaningful interactions.
The level of personalised human communication your business can provide to customers will eventually become a competitive advantage, so customer service roles will have a larger part to play in an automated environment. Research from Mattersight found that only 1% of Millennials prefer to use a digital interface for customer service purposes, as the clear majority would rather call a customer service line and talk to a living breathing human.
Across the board, soft skills training has the potential to drive productivity, engagement, and innovation across your workforce. Unfortunately, when it comes to soft skills training, many organisations only budget learning and development for selected levels, so many employees miss out on critical training.
Ben Foote, CEO of The Australian Institute of Management.