Don’t Overlook ‘Soft Skills’ Training!

There’s rarely any such thing as a “job for life” in the modern economy.  Where in the past people may have left school and followed a defined career path throughout their working life, often within the same firm, industry or profession, now school leavers are likely to switch jobs, industries and professions much more frequently, sometimes working in multiple sectors at the same time.

To be able to cope in such a challenging and constantly changing world, we need to develop employees who are capable in a whole range of areas, from problem solving to communications and numeracy.  The skills traditionally seen as “soft skills” are now becoming an important core for modern professionals.

Businesses and teams will perform better and be more resilient where their employees have mastered skills like the ability to collaborate well in person and online, to lead and communicate clearly, to navigate business technologies, alongside mastery of the core technical skills required to carry out their role.

Society generally is now more aware than ever of the links between physical and mental health and productivity.  Workplaces are changing, in terms of the physical environment, as well as the support provided to individuals.  Often, e-learning and online platforms are being used as key pillars of the support provided.  This might range from short bite-sized modules with tips and tricks to improve time management skill, through to scenarios encouraging the learner to look at situations from a different perspective and develop greater empathy with colleagues and clients.

One of the most important and, arguably most effective, changes to corporate learning and development in recent years has been the shift towards personalised learning – developing learning and development plans that are tailored specifically to the needs of individual learners, and incorporating both technical and soft skills that are needed for them to be able to carry out their role more effectively.

As more and more of the technical work that people undertake can be automated, it’s essential to ensure that individuals develop the soft skills that machines don’t possess.

It can be difficult to justify focusing on soft skills in professions where there is a strong regulatory focus on technical knowledge, but it’s important to understand that the two skill sets are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

Because soft skills such as teamwork and time management translate directly in to benefits for the organisation, they can be measured to give indications of their value.  For example, successful development of soft skills could be reflected in reduced employee turnover, increased levels of employee and customer satisfaction, or even a reduction in the time spent in meetings.

Soft skills are ideal for short, focused training modules concentrating on individual concepts.  This also makes them easier to track and may help improve knowledge retention.  Because the modules are short, they can be integrated in to the normal routine of employees with less disruption, allowing them to use the concepts they’ve learned straight away and undertake learning more frequently, developing a learning culture.

About the author

After gaining a degree in Computer Science, Tim spent nine years teaching in a number of secondary schools (11-19 year olds) in Wales.  For the majority of his time teaching, Tim led a highly successful team of teachers delivering vocational ICT qualifications and reached the level of Associate Assistant Headteacher before leaving teaching.  He has also been a senior examiner and moderator for one of the UK's largest awarding bodies.  Since 2013 he has been the senior developer for the Development Zone.

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