Why your company should prioritise soft skills

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Looking back just a decade ago, many job roles have transformed into something totally different or, perhaps, even disappeared altogether thanks to new technology. With digital transformation constantly changing how we work, it’s likely too that the skills we need will be entirely different in another 10 years.

It is easy to make forecasts for the future of the workplace, but no one can accurately predict what lies ahead. One thing is certain though: throughout this change, there is something that you must ensure lasts and holds up to the test of time – your workforce.

With a report last year estimating that robots will take over a third of British jobs by 2030, it might not seem far-fetched that robots could soon be our employees. However, there are still skills and roles that they cannot yet deliver well. Artificial intelligence is far from mastering critical thinking, leadership and listening skills ‒ so it’s vitally important that companies help develop and scale these soft skills among their employees. Most businesses still need the human touch ‒ and will do for the foreseeable future. So, what can companies do to nurture these more ‘human’ skills?

Take a new approach to learning

In the same way that skills and jobs are changing, how businesses set about training and developing their workforce also has to adapt and evolve with that transition. Company training often focuses on developing skills around a job function, but to futureproof your employees and help them to best leverage their ‘human’ side, businesses’ attitude towards training also needs to be switched up.

Management has to make the time for learning and training beyond the purely technical. Employees need to be rapidly and continuously developing to keep up with the pace of change. Training cannot, as can so often be the case, be pushed down to the bottom of the workplace agenda and be seen as a low priority. It should be pushed to the forefront, becoming an integral part of your employees’ working day. This does not have to mean making employees participate in long online tutorials every day. Rather, it’s about integrating this learning within everyday tasks, in bite-sized chunks. Soft skills cannot be picked up from one-off training, they need to be gradually developed and continuously re-enforced.  

It’s likely that you’ll already have some learning materials for soft skills training. Break these down into short, snappy and relevant resources – this could be anything from a two-minute video to a simple leaflet or infographic that are all stored somewhere easily accessible for your employees.  Unlike their robot counterparts, your employees cannot process reams of new information in an instant. Let them access the information they need when they need it, allowing them to train and skill up alongside their day-to-day tasks.

Encourage human-to-human dialogue

It’s not only a matter of helping employees to find the time for their own development, but also to make the time for offering coaching and training to others as well. Soft skills are based on human emotions, and the best way to learn is through real, personal human interactions. Speaking with others in the business, discovering how soft skills have helped them, how they learnt to build up self-confidence or better manage their time, for example, can be particularly powerful and a much more effective means for learning than being sat in front of a machine.By speaking with others, problems and challenges can be put into context, helping to paint a realistic picture of a situation. Sharing real anecdotes and stories brings this to life. A manager, colleague or director taking five minutes to share their experiences or personal story can make a real difference.  

Let employees take the lead, but encourage the journey

The phrase ‘some skills can’t be taught’ can be applied to soft skills. It is up to the individual to really learn and adopt them, they can’t be artificially enforced – no matter how hard you may try. Employees also have some responsibility to reach out and seek knowledge for themselves, so employers need to help change employee habits and behaviours towards learning and self-development.

Businesses need to ensure that they provide their workforce with the means to take charge of their own learning and development, offering much more than just access to learning materials, but also the opportunity to reach out to other colleagues, managers, even external partners or consultants, to start those conversations and not have to wait to be approached or paired up with a mentor.

This could easily be facilitated by having a company learning platform and network, enabling employees to connect with one another for advice, share their new knowledge and tell stories about what they’ve learned in their careers so far. Making it simple for employees to be proactive about their development will encourage them to take the lead.

By placing the power of learning in employees’ hands, businesses can ensure that all employees can continuously learn and train, offering a feasible and, more importantly, scalable solution for upskilling your workforce and making sure that your employees can keep up with the robots. At least for now.

This post originally appeared on Forbes