The workplaces of the future are expected to demand a wide range of skill sets, of which soft skills remain a top priority amidst leading organisations. We explore how learning technology can help support soft skills development for the future of work.

Work, as we know, is changing and evolving at an alarming rate, so much so that there are growing fears of more jobs being lost to automation and advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), with over 37% individuals afraid of automation hijacking their jobs, according to a survey by PwC.

And, the trends from past few years only substantiate such fears, with increased workplace automation and uncertain work placements driving the demand for a highly skilled workforce, one that is not only proficient in advanced technical skills but also possesses the ability to adapt and evolve with these changing trends. 

According to an analysis by Udemy, there is a strong emphasis on soft skills from leading organisations, based on the training courses their employees are required to take in order to have a better understanding of skills shortages. Whereas, The Future of Jobs report from World Economic Forum suggests that five years down the line almost 35% of skills deemed critical today will inevitably change.

Technical skills or hard skills will no doubt remain in high demand, but as technology takes care of most of such hard skills, organisations will have to increasingly look at investing in soft skills, the likes of communication, critical thinking and creativity, leadership and emotional intelligence. In essence, automation and the human workforce will be expected to complement each other, rather than compete for relevance.

As a result, building a multi-skilled workforce, one with crucial soft skills, remains a top priority for organisations, albeit it is also a key area of concern as stated in the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey, with almost 46% respondents citing talent acquisition as a critical issue. So, it is up to Learning & Development (L&D) leaders and their respective organisations to prioritise investments in the soft skills development of their workforce.

Role of Learning & Development

A report from Accenture Strategy states, “Paradoxically, the truly human skills, from leadership to creativity, will remain highly relevant and winning organisations will strike the right balance by leveraging the best of technology to elevate, not eliminate their people… Creating the future workforce now is the responsibility of every CEO. Those leaders who make their people a strategic business priority and understand the urgency of this challenge will be the ones that make the greatest gains in growth and innovation.”

Clearly then, soft skills like learning and adaptability will help ‘create a foundation for learning all other skills’, while they will also drive career development and help individuals secure long term professional stability, and L&D professionals can support this by devising innovative and diverse learning programmes and leveraging existing and emerging learning technology solutions.

However, there are critical barriers that obstruct the soft skills development process, with one of the major challenges being that organisations would rather hire new individuals who are already skilled in these ‘soft skills’ rather than upskill their existing employees. And, major drivers of this practice are the rising attrition rates around the globe. Today’s modern employees (especially millennials) prefer organisations that care about their career development, whereas organisations just don’t want to invest in the skilling of an employee if s/he will take those skills elsewhere within two years of employment.

While there is no definitive answer to this conundrum, a majority of the responsibility still rests on L&D professionals to find the right balance where employees of the organisation feel engaged, secure and committed towards their professional development as well as the development of the organisation. Easier said than done? Yes. But, done it could be.

Leveraging Learning Technology  

There are several steps L&D professionals can take to solve the critical challenge of soft skills development by focusing on improving the capabilities of existing employees, thereby minimizing the necessity of hiring external talent, and learning technology solutions like innovative Learning Management Systems (LMSes) and learning ecosystems can further drive soft skills development.

Albeit a Towards Maturity Learning Benchmark report suggests that soft skills like problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork stand a lesser chance of being delivered online or electronically than courses on IT, compliance, health and safety etc., Towards Maturity also identifies ‘high-achieving’ organisations that prefer using technology to deliver these skills.

There are a number of learning technology solutions and training delivery methods that L&D professionals can leverage, including Mobile Learning, Microlearning, Social Learning, among many others to deliver soft skills training to their workforce. The Learning Benchmark report also highlights the performance of a Blended Learning approach taken by organisations who successfully improved efficiency by integrating technology into traditional (face-to-face) training; while over 84% organisations are leveraging blended learning.

Here are few of the most important soft skills that will soon become the future hard skills, according to the London College of International Business Studies-

  • Creativity
    Creativity is the bedrock of innovation, and without innovation there cannot be progress. However, it is important to note that a growth mindset is a prerequisite for a creative mindset. While continuous learning paves the way for a growth mindset, learning technology is a perfect enabler of continuous learning, and together they can foster limitless creativity.
  • Critical Thinking
    Where machines can do a task much quicker, humans have the advantage of critically thinking about the possible outcomes arising out of it, which eventually lends itself to good problem solving skills. Learn-tech solutions, especially LMes, can host ready-to-use courses (Off-the-Shelf courses) on diverse topics, including Management & Leadership, Business Skills and many more, which distill knowledge into such desired soft skills like critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Emotional Intelligence
    Empathy and understanding each other’s experiences is a strategic advantage for humans to develop products that are more intuitive and meet the demands of the future generations. And, with the help of modern learn-tech solutions like Social Learning, developing emotional intelligence in the longer run becomes easy and more efficient.                

  • Teamwork
    With technology reigning supreme, we will need to collaborate and work as a team, often on a global scale with diverse people, demanding soft skills like teamwork and communication, which can be effectively achieved through an LMS that offers knowledge sharing and collaboration features.

In addition, learn-tech solutions and LMSes further enable many diverse learning opportunities through integration with popular content marketplaces, including Udemy, LinkedIn Learning and Lynda that can offer an ocean of knowledge for learning in-demand soft skills.

Few jobs will inevitably be lost to automation and technology. However, our greatest strength is our persistence and adaptability. There is no need to fear change, but to embrace it and empower people to build a more adaptable workforce, along with the required soft skills they will need to compete for the future of work. And it all begins with investments in learn-tech.