Address Your Industry’s Skills Gap in So-Called “Soft” Human Skills

Let’s stop talking about “soft” vs. “hard” skills. “Soft” suggests skills that aren’t as important as other skills. But so-called soft skills are essential skills. You can’t succeed without these human skills.

Jeff De Cagna, executive advisor for Foresight First LLC, said on the Association Chat podcast, “This idea of hard vs. soft skills is totally unhelpful… The [skills] that are most important in a world in which people are going to have to work better with machines—they are not soft.”

Harold Jarche, workplace learning consultant, also addressed the hard vs. soft skills myth. He referred to hard skills as merely temporary skills. Hard skills change as technology (in the broad sense of the word) changes. Human skills are permanent skills. They don’t become obsolete. No matter how the world changes around us, we need human skills to get by and to succeed.

As jobs become more automated and we move closer to a digital-human workforce, we will need the human skills that robots and AI lack. Jeff De Cagna said, “These are the skills that will distinguish us from artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning applications. These are the things that robots and AI will not be able to do for the foreseeable future in the way that human beings do them. This idea that these are soft skills is a huge misnomer.” We agree, Jeff. 

The worrisome skills gap in human skills

Human skills are getting more attention now because they’re in short supply. In the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ CEO Survey, 77 percent of respondents believed the biggest threat to their businesses stems from underdeveloped soft skills. The 2018 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn said the top priority for talent development teams is training employees in leadership, communication, and collaboration—human skills. 

Some audiences especially need training in human skills, for example, professionals who have traditionally spent more time working with equipment, hardware, data, and numbers than with people. When their jobs become more automated, they’ll have to use their expertise in more strategic ways and spend more time interacting with clients and colleagues. As they move from cubicles, labs, and server rooms to conference and meeting rooms, they’ll need to develop better communication and leadership skills.

Recent graduates also lack the human skills needed to be successful in the workforce, according to a study, Building Tomorrow’s Talent: Collaboration Can Close Emerging Skills Gap, from Bloomberg Next. Colleges and universities are starting to offer more classes in these essential skills but many young professionals still enter the workforce without them.

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Which human skills are most in demand?

Which skills do humans have and will continue to have a monopoly on in your industry? What can only humans do for their employers, clients, customers, patients, constituents, and audiences? Let’s leave the computers and robots to their strengths while we focus on our strengths, i.e., what AI and robots can’t do, for example:

•    Computers can’t build and lead a team, or foster a workplace culture.
•    They can’t write a personable, persuasive email or effectively resolve a difficult situation with a customer. 
•    They can’t think strategically or critically. 
•    They can’t empathize or develop trusted relationships.

Human skills are necessary for building successful relationships, teams, and organizations. You have to know how to communicate in different situations and with different people if you want to be understood, make a case, or get ahead in your career. To be successful, you need to develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

The top five skills companies now seek, according to LinkedIn research, are all human skills:

•    Creativity
•    Persuasion
•    Collaboration
•    Adaptability 
•    Time management

The Bloomberg Next study produced a different list of the most in-demand skills. 

•    Team-working skills (coordinating and collaborating with others)
•    Analytical reasoning/critical thinking
•    Complex problem solving
•    Agility and adaptability
•    Ethical judgment
•    Decision-making

One skill is on both lists, adaptability. In a world of change, it pays to know how to deal with ambiguous problems and situations.

Partner with employers to provide training in human skills

Employers in your industry need your association’s help. They can attempt to offer effective training in human skills or send their employees to generic training classes in leadership, communication, negotiation, or conflict resolution. But there’s a better option: your association can partner with employers to design and deliver industry-specific training in human skills. 

Human skills aren’t usually a part of an association’s certification or licensing curriculum, but they’re necessary for career advancement—and this type of training fits your mission. You can help member companies and other industry employers fill their skills gaps—while also helping industry professionals improve skills that will help them in their personal and professional lives.

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Learning pathways and digital badges for human skills 

Some companies, like IBM, have the resources to develop and deliver their own training in human skills. Learners who complete the IBM professional skills courses and pass the exam are eligible for a digital badge from IBM. These courses focus on collaboration, presentations, interpersonal skills, agile work approach, and critical and creative problem solving.

But most employers would be happy to collaborate with your association to design, develop, and deliver human skills training. LinkedIn recommends offering “learning pathways, or groups of courses, that build upon each other so that at time of completion, employees have a well-roundedness about their soft skills abilities and have gained an appreciation for continuous learning.” A digital badge would provide learners the proof for current and future employers that they have the skills necessary to succeed. 

If your association wants to make a name with college students, offer industry-specific training geared to their experience, like the Education Design Lab does. Their 21st Century Skills digital badge program for college students includes badges for:

•    Initiative
•    Collaboration
•    Critical thinking
•    Resilience
•    Oral communication
•    Empathy
•    Intercultural fluency
•    Creative problem solving

Find out which human skills your member companies and your members believe are most in demand and most in need of improvement. A digital badge program in industry-specific human skills will help your association bridge industry skills gaps, strengthen relationships with industry employers, and provide essential training for volunteer leaders and association staff. 

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