Why soft skills are key to future-proofing your workforce

Give a robot a simple task, and it’ll do it in a second. Teach a robot to analyse the results, and you’ve got a very difficult task on your hands. Robots can’t do everything, which is why human emotional intelligence will continue to be so important.

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McKinsey Global Institute’s most recent study, Automation and the future of the workforce, says robots are going to change the workplace, with 44% of work being automated by 2030. It also predicts demand for social and emotional skills such as leadership and managing others will rise by a quarter, to 22% of hours worked.

It might sound like robots are taking over the workplace—certainly some jobs will disappear or evolve—but the good news is that HR is about to get a lot more engaging. And if the World Economic Forum is correct, someone is going to need to manage the 133 million new jobs created by automation.

So it will be up to human resources to help navigate this change, balancing the need for digital capabilities and soft skills. HR must be ready to identify, develop and nurture human qualities to help businesses retain their human touch and protect jobs.

But what does talent look like in an automated future?

A very particular set of skills

The first thing to understand is that HR professionals must work on their own development as well as their workforce as both will be affected by automation. The second thing to remember is that technology is most effective with human oversight.

Take the recruitment process as an example. Off-the-shelf programmes will be readily available in future, but skilled HR professionals are needed to make sure it asks the right questions. Can you or an employee think holistically about company goals?

We’ve already seen privacy, automation and data gathering cause untold problems for business, and that’s set to continue in future. HR professionals or employees who grasp the importance of discretion, ethics and trustworthiness may save businesses from reputation-damaging events, so these are skills to watch out for and develop.

One thing HR often overlooks is the psychological pressure placed upon staff from the move to automation. We already know how the ‘always on’ culture is damaging workers’ wellbeing, but what happens when technology also begins to make them feel redundant, too? This push towards soft skills can help workers feel more valued.

It almost goes without saying that collaboration and communication skills will be in demand. Businesses are already moving away from the siloed approach to work and in future we predict that a lot of the human interaction will be team-based.

What does the research say?

But don’t just take our word for it. The World Economic Forum recently released a report entitled the Future of Jobs report, which revealed the top 10 soft skills businesses will be looking for by 2020.

In order, they are:

  • Complex problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • People management
  • Co-ordinating with others
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Judgement and decision making
  • Service orientation
  • Negotiation
  • Cognitive flexibility

Managing these issues will be a matter of education, training and the nurturing of soft skills so that employees and HR departments feel useful in the workplace.

But what exactly can HR professionals do to give their workforce meaning and security?

Have an HR game plan

A good starting point is to lead by example. A recent report from the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75% of long-term job success depends upon soft skills mastery and only 25% on technical skills, so it’s worth doing for your own career development.

The next step is to conduct a needs assessment. Working out what skills can be trained and what skills need to be brought in externally can help HR work on a game plan. A few easy questions: Do your team leaders lack communication skills? Do your employees support one another? Is there enough critical thinking in the company?

Google showed how effective this can be in its 2008 employee assessment Project Oxygen. The goal was to work out what makes their managers great, with the expectation that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) qualities would shine through.

In fact the opposite was true. The best managers were singled out for their decision-making and their ability to collaborate. Google then fed back into its hiring algorithm to great effect, reporting a happier and more productive workforce.

The good news is that soft skills are highly trainable and the exciting thing for HR departments is that these types of initiatives are breaking new ground. We’ve already seen organisations prioritise mindfulness and meditation to help employees develop focus and manage stress, for example. Research also shows that supporting diverse life experiences, such as travel, hobbies, education and responsibility can build self-efficacy.

Ultimately, soft skills will play an increasing role in the success of industry, with HR providing the core pillar for driving a company’s growth. As technology changes the way we work it’s important to think about the benefits that can only come from a human skillset. But the exciting news is that HR will be at the forefront of the employment evolution.

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Dan youds
Daniel Youds
Solutions Director

Daniel manages the private sector outsourced sales team for Reed Talent Solutions with a focus on developing sustainable client relationships and delivering new RPO and MSP contracts. Daniel has over 15 years experience in the recruitment sector, with over 10 years at Reed, working in both operations and recruitment outsourcing.

Daniel enjoys the opportunity to build resourcing solutions that make a real difference to our clients, and then see those relationships evolve and grow over time.

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