The focus is on soft skills. Here’s why.

In the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and apps, the workplace skills that seem to matter are largely technical. But, this trend is changing fast. The World Economic Forum has predicted a significant rise in demand for soft skills by 2020. Non-technical capabilities such as problem-solving, cognitive abilities, and social skills will be in demand, by a staggering 36% more.

That’s right. And the impact of this shift will be exponential. According to the Stanford Research Institute, 75% of long-term job success depends upon soft skills mastery, and only 25% on technical skills.

Why this sudden spike though?

The rate of change of technology is driving an increasingly competitive environment. The expectations of customers and staff are evolving alongside. This changes how businesses operate – be it in terms of strategy, products, or profit models. Having staff with the right mix of technical and soft skills is becoming critical for business success.

Digital disruption continues to change the skills landscape. Technology is making it easier to connect people across geographies. With this, more business functions can be automated. Thus, an increasing proportion of skill gaps that businesses are likely to face in the future will revolve around soft skills. For instance, human capital surveys suggest that almost 40% of jobs in Australia will be substituted with computing over the next decade.

The result: employees will be called on to combine digital literacy with essential human skills, such as communication and problem-solving. An example of what opportunities it might bring – despite the low cost of customer service technology options such as automated phone answering systems and text messaging, customers prefer live chat (73%), which provides access to real employees in real time.

Also, consider globalization. It is not a new trend. But, in the last 6-7 years, it has connected employees across the globe, giving rise to the need for diversity and inclusion. As you know, D&I needs soft skills like undoing biases, communicating, cultivating curiosity, cultural sensitivity, and emotional intelligence. In fact, a survey of 900 internationally active businesses showed that local employees with cross-cultural skills were important for their ability to operate in important international markets.

In tune with such shifts, companies like Cisco are pivoting quickly. According to Paul Wittich, Head of Virtual Sales, “15 years ago, all you needed was a solid technical understanding. Now, soft skills are just as valuable as technical skills.”

The impact of recruiting for, and developing such skills is unmistakable. For example, female employees in an Indian garment factory who were randomly assigned to a soft skills training program recorded a 12% increase in productivity. Are you willing to reach for such impact?

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