Softly, softly – the art of training soft skills – and why it is essential you do so

Soft Skills training

The World Economic Forum, in its 2020 report The Future of Jobs, analyses the employment, skills and workforce strategy needed for the future. Its findings make for interesting reading.

By 2024, 35% of the skills we consider invaluable today will have changed. We are on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. This is a movement that is bringing great change, from advanced robotics, autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, through to advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics. 

It’s a revolution that will transform our workplaces, and the future workforce will need a different set of skillsets to be effective

In the report, global HR experts were asked about the skills needed for employment and recruitment over the short-term future. The top three were complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity – all soft skills. 

It’s an approach quite far removed from traditional thinking on training which has tended to focus on hard skills historically.

What are soft skills?

They can be described as attributes or someone’s personal approach to running their life, solving problems and navigating social experiences, rather than hard skills that are about technical knowledge and abilities. And they are challenging to teach because they are more intangible. It’s easy to test a person’s knowledge of using a particular software package, much harder to test their emotional intelligence or team playing abilities.

Tips for training soft skills

Start with who you hire. When recruiting for a new vacancy, if you can identify candidates with the right can-do attitude and who display a willingness to learn more than just practical skills, then you are giving yourself an advantage. It means you will be starting with employees you are keen to go in the direction you want them to. This is arguably more important than job-related experience that can be taught more easily – depending, of course, on the job to be filled. If you are recruiting a brain surgeon, some hard technical skills are fairly essential too!

Conduct a needs assessment. This is an essential step to identify gaps and plan out your training development paths. It’s important to involve your employees in this. Find out what areas they struggle with. Is it decision making? Relationships? Critical assessment? By involving the employees from the start, you not only get a better insight into their skills gaps, but you will get them engaged right from the start.

Consider using a Learning Management System (LMS). A good LMS will make it easier to deliver and track your employees’ learning. Look for one with facilities such as collaboration tools, whiteboards, forums, and job simulations. And you need one that can monitor your staff’s progress towards their individual goals. If you don’t have access to an LMS then get your HR department on board to support you with these tasks.

Use a learning platform that suits your audience. If you have a room full of millennials, you won’t get buy-in if you launch into a 30 slide PowerPoint presentation. Use formats that will appeal and engage, such as e-learning. Short videos can be really useful as they can simulate real-life scenarios and clearly demonstrate examples of good and poor practice.  

Let your employees practice and refine their skills. Ensure your learning plans allow time for your trainees to think and reflect on what they have learned, as well as opportunities for everyone to try what they’ve learned. If you have just trained your employees in teamworking, then you need to give them a group task to practise those new skills. 

One thing is for sure, soft skills development is not optional, and it won’t happen on its own. As a manager, you need to be proactive about this type of training. With 75% of long-term job success depending upon soft skills mastery according to the Stanford Research Institute, they are essential for everyone who is looking to improve performance and advance to the next level in their careers.

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