As technology evolves, it is changing the type of skills workers need to succeed in the workplace. Automation and the rapid adoption of technology is changing process-oriented jobs like equipment installation and maintenance, for example. As the physical aspects of these jobs get easier, employees who typically carry out these tasks find themselves interacting more with colleagues and customers as their focus shifts to customer experience, managerial tasks, and working alongside technology. The evolution of our roles in the workplace prioritizes a new category of skills; soft skills.
A 2019 McKinsey study projected that nearly 40% of US jobs are currently in occupational categories that could be affected by automation between now and 2030. A Brookings Institution report raised similar concerns, warning that 25% of American jobs are at risk of being partially replaced by AI and other technologies. While these predictions seem ominous, the rise of automation is also opening up adjacent opportunities for humans in areas AI can’t solve. As a result, employees’ roles are changing, and soft skills are now some of the most valuable assets workers can bring to the table.
Soft skills are the fundamental attributes that allow people to interact effectively, such as communication, empathy, leadership and teamwork. Unfortunately, current soft skill capacity in our workforce is alarmingly low. Over 40% of corporations and almost 50% of academic institutions don’t think recent graduates have the soft skills they need to thrive in the modern working world.
At Talespin, we work closely with the business leaders who have a front-row seat to witness the shifting technological tides in the workplace. This proximity gives us unique insight into what decision-makers in the HR and L&D space are doing to prepare workers for a soft skills-oriented workplace. To gain a pulse on how these leaders are thinking about soft skills, we turned to our network and surveyed 70 HR and L&D leaders and influencers. Of the respondents, 35.7% work at companies with over 2,000 employees, 41.4% work at companies with 100-2,000 employees, and the rest work at companies with fewer than 100 employees, or are individual influencers. Forty-six percent of respondents were managers, directors or VPs.
The findings offer a window into how these leaders are using technology to prepare workers for a world where soft skills are critical for professional success. Here is what we learned:
Our survey results showed HR and L&D teams recognize the importance of providing soft skills training for their employees. More than a quarter (27.1%) of respondents ranked this as their top training priority, and an additional 44.3% listed it among their top three. Only 8.6% of the people we heard from told us soft skill training isn't on their radar at all.
More specifically, we found that leadership is the most in-demand soft skill, with 65.7% of respondents saying this skill was a key point of focus in 2019. The next most popular skills are compliance and ethics, with more than half (52.9%) ranking these as a priority. In recent years, companies have come under fire for fraud and other financial abuses. The demand for compliance and ethics training indicates companies are paying attention and know they need to train their teams so they can best avoid these issues.
Despite this demand for soft skills in the workplace, organizations face challenges in establishing scalable and effective training programs. Nearly 70% of survey respondents said the primary obstacle to implementing soft skills training is a lack of time and resources. Over 40% of respondents also listed the difficulty of measuring the return on the investments they made in the training programs as a key challenge.
These companies might be struggling to roll out soft skills training because the majority of them (72.9%) are doing so with an outdated classroom learning format. Research shows classroom learning is not an effective training style for adults, and presents logistical challenges in terms of travel and training time. And while other traditional training methods like role play are marginally effective, they are inconsistent and are not scalable for large, distributed workforces.
Luckily, there are several technologies HR teams can lean on to make their soft skills training programs more efficient. For example, e-learning can be an effective tool. Our pulse found more than half of HR and L&D leaders and influencers (57.1%) are actively implementing this technology. Game-based learning is another great option. This type of interactive training allows employers to offer personalized feedback and a safe learning environment. And it comes with a number of benefits, including increased job satisfaction and improved performance.
In addition, numerous studies have found VR to be a highly effective tool for training, and our pulse showed decision-makers in the HR and L&D space recognize this. On a scale of 1-10, most survey respondents (45.7%) chose 8 or above when ranking how beneficial they thought AR and VR would be for workforce training. However, while 31% of respondents are exploring or at least thinking about exploring VR and AR technology for their training programs, only about 1 in 8 (12.9%) of them are currently implementing it. And the majority — 56% — don't have it on their radar at all.
Our pulse paints a picture of the current state of soft skills training. Our network of HR and L&D influencers, managers, directors, and VPs recognize the value of training their workforces to improve their soft skills. However, most of them are currently using outdated and ineffective training methods to do so. As a result, they struggle to measure the impact of their training and worry that their programs waste resources. To prepare employees for the future of work, HR and L&D teams need to start adopting technology solutions like game-based learning, VR and AR.
Interested in learning more? Check out Talespin's CoPilot training platform, which uses virtual humans to teach interpersonal skills, to find out how innovative technology can help your team revolutionize workforce training.