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Soft skills, now more than ever

 

NOW that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is in full swing, employers are increasingly focused on developing technical skills and digital fluency. In our own firm, for example, there is a growing demand for professionals with highly specific skills and experiences in, say, cyber security and big data. You could say it is humanity’s way of staying on top of the technology it is developing and adopting at breakneck speed. And for good reason.

According to a 2017 report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), almost half the activities people are paid to do globally could be automated using robots, artificial intelligence (AI), and other forms of technology. For the Philippines, MGI estimates that 48 percent of employees’ activity could be automated. That would mean the loss of about 18.2 million jobs.

How can an employee avoid being rendered obsolete in this scenario?



The answer may be the most obvious yet overlooked one: develop soft skills.

As more and more machines find their way into the workplace, humans will need to cultivate the capabilities that will enable us to add value where machines fall short. “Soft” skills such as creativity, leadership and critical thinking are enduring human capabilities that are critical to delivering business value and adapting to the disruptive forces that are shaping the future of work. Deloitte estimates that by 2030, soft-skill intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs.

Yet, according to the World Economic Forum, there is a deficit of these social and emotional capabilities in the workplace, perhaps because they are commonly thought to be locked in during childhood.

Developing soft skills into adulthood
Research from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child suggests otherwise. In fact, social and emotional capabilities are malleable into adulthood, meaning they can be developed with the right resources, environment and incentives. Here’s how organizations can get started.

To begin with, organizations will have to think about their business strategy and how it will be affected by future of work disruptors. In the MGI report on automation, for instance, researchers noted that the largest share of automatable work in the Philippines is in agriculture-related sectors. Before automation overtakes this sector, organizations can start identifying potential capability gaps and design interventions that will help prepare employees for the future.

This is also an opportune time for business leaders to consider how their learning and development efforts could be enhanced or redesigned to focus more on human capabilities such as creativity and critical thinking. One American investment bank, for example, rolled out a national training program focused on building empathy. It was the financial institution’s way of helping employees better connect with and advise clients.

One of the difficulties organizations may encounter with these training programs is that it requires significant time and effort to create an environment that can test and sharpen an individual’s problem-solving and leadership skills, for example. This is where technology can help.

Virtual reality, or VR, can deliver the kind of immersive learning experience that is needed to enhance soft skills. One software company, for example, can develop realistic scenarios that can be used to train managers on how to handle difficult conversations with employees or how to resolve conflicts. Since the training is done in a virtual space, the learner can feel safe, but at the same time they will have to tackle a face-to-face conversation — albeit with a virtual character — and truly apply their skills at defusing a volatile situation.

VR can also provide real-time quantitative feedback. By tracking learners’ reactions, where they look, and how they move, this technology can provide an organization with a more accurate understanding of learning and development needs.

Another way leaders can bolster employees’ soft skills is to incorporate mastery of such skills in performance management and promotion discussions. With many organizations shifting to team-based structures and virtual, flexible workplaces, business leaders may consider evaluating workers on skills such as communication, collaboration, teaming and empathy, especially for leadership roles.

With advances in AI, cognitive computing and automation quickly changing the way we work, it’s not surprising that business leaders are ramping up efforts to equip — and hire — workers with the relevant technical skills. While that’s all well and good, organizations should not lose sight of the innate value workers bring to the table, those qualities that will stand the test of time and new technology, qualities such as creativity, empathy and the ability to inspire. With machines taking on more and more work tasks, perhaps it is time to focus on enhancing those skills that remain uniquely human.

The author is the tax and corporate services leader of Navarro Amper & Co., a member of the Deloitte Asia Pacific Network. Deloitte Asia Pacific Ltd. is a company limited by guarantee and a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. Members of Deloitte Asia Pacific Ltd. and their related entities, each of which are separate and independent legal entities, provide services from more than 100 cities across the region, including Auckland, Bangkok, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Melbourne, Osaka, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo and Yangon.

 

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