In LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Trends, they say the workforce’s #1 priority is developing soft skills. (“The personal attributes that enable a person to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”) It’s these human capabilities that will become more and more prized over the next decade. Skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy are going to become differentiators as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over our other tasks. Unfortunately, these conscious human skills have generally been viewed as second priority in terms of training and education. For better or worse, these skills will become essential to anyone who wants to stay relevant in their field as automated systems proliferate.

In a recent report by Mc Donald’s UK they found that the annual contribution of soft skills is expected to grow strongly over the next five years. By 2020, the annual contribution of soft skills to the economy is expected to grow in real terms to £109 billion, and to just over £127 billion by 2025. They also revealed that soft skills are also consistently reported as being highly valued by employers throughout the UK economy, and are recognised as ‘key competencies that employees need to secure employment and succeed in the workplace.

Also in the UK context, recent research published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES – the non-departmental public body that advises the UK Government and the devolved administrations on skills and employment policy), based on a survey of 91,000 businesses across the UK, identifies that soft skills are associated with between 33%-40% of all reported skills-shortage vacancies.9 2.17 The UKCES survey identified that softer skills were deficient among applicants for all occupational types, but they were more frequently reported among applicants for sales and customer service occupations, administrative/clerical occupations and among elementary occupations. The UKCES survey also identified the extent to which UK employers have existing employees with skills gaps that are related to soft skills. On average, UK establishments surveyed reported that they currently had problems with soft skills being lacking among their staff.

So with all this evidence why isn’t the UK investing more in training their people in these skills. As a founder of a specialist soft skills training company it sometimes feels like we are banging our head against a brick wall trying to persuade L and D professionals to help their people develop the skills that will future proof them in the 4th industrial revolution. Its time to get serious, human skills are not fluffy and a poor second to tech skills, they are essential to success now and in the future and to top it off because we are so reliant on technology to communicate we are seeing these skills diminish in young and older people, it really isn’t just millennials and generation z that need development, we all do.

What to focus on

The research we have been doing suggests the following 5 skills are the most important to the future economy and to individuals who want to remain competitive.

  1. Interpersonal and social skills
  2. Communication
  3. Empathy
  4. Team work and collaboration
  5. Self awareness and responsibility

So when you are planning your training for next year and allocating budget take a long hard look at the soft skills.