Creating a sustainable skilling culture
A trend reflective of larger shifts in the business environment, soft skills are taking the centre stage of the skilling landscape. When it comes to skill demands that all companies face, most experts note that the rise in soft skills has been far more significant. While the demand for core technical skills, those often labelled as ‘hard skills’, keep evolving, the demand for soft skills has been consistently high over the past few years. As a result, soft skills — such as empathy, emotional intelligence, creativity, mindfulness, adaptability, integrity, optimism, self-motivation, teamwork and resilience — are increasingly taking the forefront, becoming a crucial part of how companies seek to operate.
The impact of the pandemic
Intangible skills such as leadership, collaboration and communication become highly important in a business world filled with uncertainty. For many companies, building the right soft skills has become imperative during this extended period of disruption. The rapid shift to a remote way of working meant that much of the focus on upskilling has been related to the use of management, communication and reporting tools. After all, who had heard of Zoom before March 2020? Yet by April 2020, they were attracting 300 million subscribers a day. But having access to tools does not in itself create collaboration or ensure staff engagement. As Beatrice Joubert - Pearson, VP TalentLens explains, ‘“of course there are lots of tools out there, but they are only as good as the skills strategy they support. And that strategy needs to come first - company culture needs to evolve to focus on constant adaptation and adoption of a lifelong learning mindset.’” According to Beatrice, culture is created through ‘“personal qualities and interpersonal relations - what we call soft skills.’”
It, therefore, comes as little surprise that in a world slowly finding its way out of a global pandemic, soft skills are on the mind of most business leaders.
Creating a sustainable skilling culture
- To ensure the lessons learned from the pandemic and years of technological disruption preceding it translates into organizational change, building the right skilling culture is imperative. The following can be goals that both HR leaders and L&D heads can seek to build into their current skilling culture to make them more responsive to soft skill demands.
- Use a robust performance gap analysis: Gaps in soft skills help learning professionals create more impactful ways of imparting the right soft skills training. ‘This approach helps HR leaders develop a plan that both the company and employee can agree on in terms of training focus areas,’ adds Jon Kaplan - TDS Global Solutions, CEO. ‘Using these tools,’ he explains, ’companies can monitor and discuss performance on a more regular basis.’ This brings dynamism to the skilling culture, one that the business world of today sorely requires.
- Create meaningful and measurable outcomes: It is important to note that building soft skills is never an easy task. To build intangible qualities and skills like teamwork, communication, and creativity, HR leaders are often unsure of the success of their skilling programs. To remedy this, it's important to have meaningful and measurable outcomes. ‘Goal setting and individual development plans can’t be buzz-words,’ according to Freya Thomas-Monk, Pearson, SVP English Assessment, who explains that a ‘crucial part of making skilling programs sustainable is to build inclusive goals and use data and findings to ensure professionals have the best possible online learning experience.’
- Create a multifaceted skilling program: Soft skills are complex. This means HR leaders face a tough challenge to choose tools with the right design and capabilities. ‘Today simply plugging in an online tool in your skilling program is not enough,’ explains Beatrice. 'What is required rather is a combination of different actions which includes having clear goals, diagnostic tools, coaching sessions, workshops, and of course opportunities to apply (and monitor) the skills in the workplace.’
- Involve leaders in modeling skilling culture: The nature of constant disruptions mean that organizations today require a flexible, trusting, empowering learning environment. And leaders have an important role to play in fostering such a culture. ‘Employee soft skill development results from the example displayed by managers and company leaders,’ notes Beatrice. ‘Soft skills awareness and training should start at the top of the organization. If modelled and then implemented effectively, identifying required role specific and company-wide soft skills are a powerful driver of coherent employee attainment and continuous development process.’
Skilling culture to future-proof organizations
The pandemic has accelerated technology adoption by businesses and consumers, turbocharging demand for cloud computing and e-commerce services while squeezing companies that can’t serve their customers online. The latest Future of Jobs Report 2020 notes that over 84 percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44 percent of their workforce to operate remotely. Additionally, a report by the Indian Staffing Federation (ISF), states that in India, the tech industry will add another three million new jobs in the next five years.
For business leaders, this shift to a tech-driven workplace with a rising population of remote workers has an additional effect; it creates more demand for soft skills. While the job roles and specific technical skills will continue to change and evolve, those uniquely human skills - communication, empathy, critical thinking, problem-solving, innovation - will remain among the top skills that the world’s largest companies seek to strengthen.
Adding to it, Jon shares, “Many companies use a standard set of KSAs to measure against and they translate to a Balanced Scorecard. Using this approach or some other type of training or performance gap analysis you can develop a plan that both the company and employee can agree on in terms of training focus areas. Using these tools, you can monitor and discuss performance on a quarterly basis. This way there are no surprises come employee review time as well as ensuring that you are delivering all the right training to drive desired business outcomes.”
Further, the use of data is emerging as a critical mechanism to building a sustainable skilling culture, Freya shares, “By using this data we create a whole ‘ecosystem’ around learning. Again this may sound like jargon but what it means is that we will use data and findings to ensure learners have the best possible online learning experience with us – they have all the materials they need to upskill themselves, to prepare and take tests and have clear feedback on how to improve and progress in their chosen field.
(This article is based on the interviews based on Beatrice Joubert - Pearson, VP TalentLens UK, Freya Thomas-Monk - Pearson, SVP English Assessment, and Jon Kaplan - TDS Global Solutions, CEO.)