The future of skills

The need to continually reskill is now a fact of working life. Changes in the workplace – including those brought about by technology-enabled automation – create new, previously unforeseen, roles and alter the parameters of others. As job roles evolve, so too do the skill sets that employees need to have for businesses to perform, grow and compete. Employers will look for these new skills in graduates leaving education and entering the workforce. Not only will they need work entrants to have the skills that are in demand, they will also expect them to display a flexible approach to learning, one that will stand them in good stead to continually refresh and develop skills as needs dictate.

This requires a certain attitude and mindset – one that views learning as a lifelong activity. Technology is evolving all the time and, as it does, employees are having to reskill to work with the latest technology in their jobs; in some cases, their roles are evolving as automation takes over routine, repetitive tasks and they are freed up to focus on higher impact tasks.

To put some measures on this, a PwC survey found that 37 per cent of respondents were worried about jobs being at risk because of automation while McKinsey discovered that 62 per cent of executives believe that a quarter of their workforce will have to retrain or be replaced by 2023.

The importance of ‘soft’ skills

While automation is undoubtedly having an impact on jobs, in many cases it is altering the type of activities employees now engage in. In accountancy, for example, computer software may take care of the number-crunching but the giving of expert advice and client engagement rests squarely with the accountant.

It’s a shift of emphasis from the ‘hard’ technical skills of a role to so-called ‘soft’ skills – those that equip people to communicate, interact, adapt, think critically and be creative. These capabilities are also eminently transferable, something which is important to both employers and employees in an evolving workplace.

Such is the recognition of the importance of soft skills that 4,000 professionals in LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report said training for them is the number one priority. Similarly, worldwide responses to a QS/Institute of Student Employers report, which examined the relationship between graduate knowledge and employer expectations, revealed that the three most important attributes perceived by employers are problem solving, teamwork and communication.

Learning systems supporting soft skills development

However, ‘soft’ skills are traditionally harder to teach and assess. They rely on different methods, such as coaching, mentoring and the giving of feedback (not just from tutors but potentially also peers and other stakeholders) which are built up over time.

Modern, adaptable teaching and learning methods can help deliver course content designed to build the required abilities in learners – those being the ‘soft’ as well as technical expertise. Technology-based learning that supports features such as video-based assignments can help overcome some of the practical barriers to building these skills. It enables a social approach to learning, with collaboration and discussion central to the experience.

What’s more, modern learning platforms that provide the means for students to build their own electronic portfolios equip graduates to demonstrate their skills to potential employers. These online, virtual CVs support multimedia formats so that students can include videos of themselves delivering a presentation or instructing another person on how to do something – showcasing communication, leadership, social interaction and other highly-prized skills.

A culture of lifelong learning

Such a portfolio, which students can build up throughout their course, establishes the mindset that learning does not end with course completion, but rather continues into the workplace and life in general. In this way, work entrants will be equipped with the necessary attitude to continually refresh existing skills and train to build new ones.

For existing employees, who have for some time been a part of a workplace which has already seen much change, there are encouraging signs that they welcome opportunities to learn – the same PwC survey cited earlier found that 74 per cent of respondents are ready to  retrain. This suggests that those employers with robust learning and development programmes are well-placed to maintain a workforce that adapts to build the evolving competences it needs.

Today’s workforce needs to be more flexible than ever before and the ability to adapt is likely to remain a key requirement for the workforces of tomorrow. With the right systems of learning in education and enterprise, students and employees can be encouraged to develop skills that will stand them in good stead as they navigate the evolving world of work. What’s more, it will help sow the seeds of lifelong learning necessary for individuals, and enterprises, to adapt and flourish.

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