As companies evolve and adapt to the digital future of work, there is an increased demand for employees that display strong soft skills. These people are essential for companies to survive the rapid changes that will ultimately bring about volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
In Deloitte’s recent Human Capital Trends Report, it found that only 14% of business leaders believe traditional organisational models, with hierarchies de-lineated by expertise, make their teams effective and productive.
So, as companies start to reduce these hierarchies and create flatter team structures, there is a higher demand for more agile employees who are adaptable, creative and can work on multiple projects across multiple teams. In fact, these skills will be more sought after than technical skills.
As the World Economic Forum notes in their Future of Jobs report: “Social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills.”
The Importance of Soft Skills Over Technical Skills
Soft skills won’t replace the need for technical knowledge completely, but as artificial intelligence and automation continues to change the future of work, soft skills will be needed to carry out tasks that AI systems can’t yet undertake.
The soft skills that employers will seek include critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, creativity and innovation.
There is no time like the present for people to build on their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and employers will play a huge role in nurturing and developing the growth of these skills among their employees, in order to make their workforce ready for the future.
Soft Skills of the Future
Employers are already willing to pay more for employees who have soft skills because although they are hard skills to learn, they are the most portable of skills. Meaning, they can be transferred from one job to another.
Here is a more in-depth look at the soft skills people will need in order to thrive in the shifting landscape of work.
Complex Problem Solving: Complex problem solvers can pinpoint when something has gone wrong and even anticipate a complication before it even exists. This ability to notice that something is amiss requires a strong awareness of what is going on in every part of the business. For example, a problem solver will know what levels sales are supposed to be at and can notice if they suddenly drop. Furthermore, they will be able to offer solutions to fix the problem.
Critical Thinking: Critical thinkers have the important ability to identify a problem or goal and then determine several possible actions to take through thoughtful analysis. After comparing the different options using data analytics, they will then be able to make an informed decision and pinpoint which one is likely to be more successful.
Furthermore, they will also be able to act as decision-makers and display the ability to condense vast amount of data into insightful interpretations and measured decisions.
Creativity: Artificial intelligence programs are extremely good at spitting out several options, but they're not necessarily good at providing creative or imaginative solutions. Thus, creativity as a soft skill is highly sought after. A creative employee is a person who can think outside the box and build innovative solutions to problems, out of confidence and unique ideas. They will possess the ability to be curious and try something new based on prior knowledge and enough understanding to see if a process can be improved.
Teamwork: A recent study from Atlassian shows that 90% of companies are currently confronting problems so complex that only a strong team with good communication can solve them efficiently. Furthermore, it found that 78% of respondents don’t fully trust their teammates. Thus, nailing teamwork is a hugely important step towards success in the future of work and creating collaborative, adaptive teams that work well together.
Emotional Intelligence: People who are emotionally intelligent have skills such as empathy and curiosity, which are qualities AI machines also don’t have. Emotional intelligence is a combination of two kinds of skills: intrapersonal skills and interpersonal skills, meaning how well a person manages their emotions, and how they relate to others.
Laura Wilcox of Harvard University recently said, “Emotional intelligence—the ability to, say, understand your effect on others and manage yourself accordingly—accounts for nearly 90% of what moves people up the ladder”.
Negotiation: Employees with negotiation skills are highly sought after for their ability to come up with a win-win solution in a teamwork environment. It’s also very important for people with leadership roles to be able to build, maintain, and improve relationships, through the act of negotiation.
Furthermore, good negotiators are fiercely efficient. Instead of wasting hours arguing with other colleagues, the negotiator navigates a common ground and eradicates the friction between non-negotiators. Thus, negotiations play a crucial role in the success of leaders and people who want advanced career progression.
Adaptability and Flexibility: Studies show that people who are highly adaptable are more highly valued than those who are highly skilled but less willing to adapt, flex, and change. Qualities that adaptive people demonstrate include:
• Being open to alternative solutions when suggestions are rejected by other team members.
• Showing willingness to take on new roles, even when the new role feels like a challenge.
• Helping others to generate ideas and be creative.
• Being able to stay calm in stressful situations and meetings.
Thus, the ability to adapt to changes and to be flexible, is about accepting reality and coping with it.
According to the World Economic Forum, for those looking to future proof their careers, building competencies in areas that machines will be unlikely to tackle effectively (i.e. complex problem solving, creativity, adaptability) is the best recipe for success. By improving these skills, people who are looking for a career transition or job progression, will be most likely to succeed in the fast-paced, rapidly evolving workplaces of the future.
The Author: Anne Keys, Joint Managing Partner, The Panel Search & Selection
Anne Keys leads The Panel’s executive search areas in Financial Services specifically in the areas of Funds and Fund Management. She is also the Brexit lead for The Panel and is working with new investment firms setting up in Ireland. During the course of her career, Anne has worked with many of the top Funds and Investment Management firms in Ireland and abroad and has seen how the requirements by organisations, big and small, has changed. She advises clients on the suitability of her candidates based on their soft skills and match to the company culture. Anne is also on the steering committee of 100Women in Finance and has signed the 30% charter on providing a diverse candidate slate to clients.