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/Rachel Matthews The death of traditional soft skills

Social media. Mobile devices. Digital communications. Constant access. Agile working. Virtual meetings. Multiple generations.

We’re all familiar with these terms. Most of us probably use them every day; consider them a core part of our working lives. They are normal, they are expected, they are essential. Now.

But let’s rewind ten years.

Would you have had a laptop that you could connect to WiFi on the train so that you could keep working? Would you have been checking your emails in front of the television at 10pm? Would you have needed to discuss a project with a team of people, but sit at your desks in different locations to do so?

Modern Technology

We all recognise that the working landscape has changed dramatically. We are more advanced than we’ve ever been and it suits us, most of the time. We’ve adapted to the change of pace, to less structured working hours and always being contactable.

Or have we?

There’s plenty of research that shows the dangers of this lifestyle. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that the number of days taken off work with mental health problems including stress and anxiety has increased 25% year on year. There’s also lots of people talking about the dangers of using your smart phone in the evening, and we don’t stop doing it.

Why does this matter?

L&D have a real struggle on their hands. There’s no doubt that we continue to develop people in traditional soft skills – and many of these are still relevant. For example, we could argue that, with excellent time management, there’d be no need to check emails in the evening.  But it doesn’t stop us doing it – we’re hardwired to do so. But is there a need to re-evaluate which soft skills are required and integrate modern skills into the L&D offering?

We deal with L&D departments on a daily basis, and most are thinking about how effective their solutions are. But we need to look at the bigger picture. What are the skills that people need now, in 2017, to be effective in their roles? Is it still traditional communication skills? Are your people still standing up in front of a room of 50 people and giving a PowerPoint presentation?

For some organisations, this will still be true to some extent. But it’s not enough. The requirement for soft skills has developed as dramatically as the working environment has and it’s our job in L&D to ensure we are supporting people just as well as we were 20 years ago.

What do we need now?

Think about your people. How are they interacting? Who are they speaking to?

With digital communications at an all-time high (and continuing to grow), communication skills is no longer just about face-to-face interactions. There’s not as big a focus on how body language affects conversations (although this is still important). We need to start thinking about how adaptable these skills are. Can someone communicate as well face-to-face as they can on a virtual meeting, or in an email? Are they emotionally intelligent in doing so?

Agile workers face a huge challenge - it’s difficult to build strong relationships, so team building is becoming an important soft skill to master. And with our heads in a digital world most of the time, we need to start reviewing social skills. Are people still able to discuss things directly, or are they relying on emails?Modern Day Soft Skills

And how about being able to think critically? More and more roles are becoming stand-alone, organisations expect individuals to be able to work on their own even more so than five or ten years ago. But being resourceful and thinking critically is key to the success of this.

Finally, let’s talk about presentation skills. It can be considerably more difficult to present to a virtual meeting via your computer than it can to a big room. This may sound crazy to people who don’t like public speaking, but it’s so much harder to gauge reactions, to keep interest and engagement and to use audience participation online. You’re on your own more so than ever.

Is this really a must?

It’s no secret that people (Millennials in particular) think development is a vital employee benefit. People want to be better at their jobs. They want to be able to spend less time in the office and manage their workloads more efficiently. And I’d wager that you’d struggle to find someone who wouldn’t like to be able to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day.

But between the new working environment and the always evolving digital landscape, this is much harder than it seems. L&D need to take a step back and focus on how effective their training solutions really are. This could also be a key driver for lack of engagement – people aren’t interested in training because it doesn’t help them.

We all want to get results, to help people succeed and deliver an outstanding L&D solution, but to do this we need to re-evaluate the true workplace struggles and bring learning and soft skills into 2017.

If you're struggling to do this, or aren't sure where to start, get in touch with us and we'll help you break through the uncertainty to find the perfect solution for your organisation.

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Rachel Matthews

Rachel Matthews, Social Media and Marketing Manager

In my blogs I will look at industry constraints and issues and problems that employees face in their day-to-day work lives.

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