Do Soft Skills Matter?

August 19, 2019 | Activate Learning | 3 min read
Do Soft Skills Matter?

Regardless of what you call them, everyone needs to start paying soft skills the attention they deserve. According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs 2018 report, here are the top five skills likely to be trending in 2022

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Creativity originality and initiative
  4. Tech design and programming
  5. Critical thinking and analysis

What is the most striking part of this list? Only the fourth is a hard skill. In other words, it is soft skills that will be most in demand in a few years.

Part of the problem with soft skills is that because they are not technical or hard skills, they are difficult to define and quantify. Reports about the shortages and skills gap in areas such as technology and science are everywhere, but rarely does the lack of soft skills garner any media attention. We also appear to struggle to what to call these skills – power or multiplier are both appropriate titles- and both equally convey the critical role these skills play in any organisation. My colleague, Heide Abelli, previously blogged about the subject. She demonstrated that while in the past people may have overlooked these less tangible skills, the crux of the matter is today more than ever, organisations need soft skills.

It’s not just the WEF report that is highlighting the importance of these often overlooked skills. Skillsoft examined thousands of learning curricula that we developed on behalf of our customers. Based on this information, here is a list of the seven soft skills that Skillsoft believes are critical for today’s workforce:

  1. Adaptive thinking
  2. Design and customer-centric mindset
  3. Collaboration mindset
  4. Agility mindset
  5. Growth mindset
  6. Business Acumen
  7. Curious, passion-driven learning

Not only are these lists strikingly similar, but they also align with recent research that shows a whopping 44% of senior executives believe employees lack the following skills: Communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration

How to develop soft skills

How do you teach these soft skills? Skills like communication or critical thinking or often perceived as inherent and therefore, not a skill a person can learn. Acquiring the knowledge to master an Excel spreadsheet is very different from learning how best to communicate or interact with others.

Writing for Chief Learning Officer, Todd Maddox, says, “Behavioural skill learning is not mediated by the cognitive skills learning system in the brain, but rather by the behavioural skills learning system in the brain. Behaviour skills learning is optimized (italics for emphasis) when the learner trains on multiple scenarios that differ qualitatively or in very nuanced ways. For example, executive leadership training scenarios could include those with a large or small group, a very ethnically diverse or homogeneous group, like-minded individuals or individuals with a broad array of beliefs. In all cases, executive communication is being trained, but the scenarios differ greatly. It is the breadth of scenarios that enhances generalization, transfer and long-run behavior change.”

Skillsoft is keen to understand just how scenario-based training is effective and so we partnered with MIT and Accenture to delve into the way our brain processes and retains information. Here’s what that research shows us:

Employees who watched the scenario-based video performed significantly better on post-assessments than those who watched the instructor-led (baseline) video.

In short – given the sophisticated attributes of these skills, to successfully teach them, leaners need more than just words or definitions. This understanding is why Skillsoft’s soft skills training uses professional actors and scriptwriters to illustrate key concepts through real-world situations. For example, take a topic such as emotional intelligence which experts agree can determine who will climb the corporate ladder and who stays on the bottom rung. We’ve created a whole program around how to increase emotional intelligence both professionally and personally. Included in this are a selection of resources from books and videos like this one about the best way to manage anger.

Agata Nowakowska is the Area Sales VP UK, Skillsoft EMEA.