How to harness soft skills learning data to develop the workforce of the future

Tying data to soft skills is paramount for success, says Armin Hopp.

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Almost half (47%) of today’s jobs will be gone in 10 years, according to a Deloitte report. This study also stated that 50% of companies are ‘retraining workers to work side by side with machines, 67% of employees believe they must continuously reskill themselves to stay in their career, and 58% believe they will have a new career within five years’.

It seems impossible, in 2019, to predict which skills will be required by 2030. Predictive analytics is a hot topic in the HR world, especially when making sense of L&D data. In practice, few HR professionals are collecting learning data; if they are, they are failing to collate it in any meaningful way.

The reality is that very few organisations are putting their learning and development data to good use, when they could be harnessing it to predict future staffing needs and help their businesses get ahead.

Understand that time for learning doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody.

This is why strong soft skills are paramount to the success of many businesses. Companies today operate in a dynamic, fast-changing world, and organisations equipped with employees who have flexible mindsets will adapt best to the changes ahead.

In LinkedIn’s global survey of 5,000 HR professionals, the need for soft skills emerged as a top priority, with 91% of respondents arguing that soft skills are key to transforming the workplace. 89% of survey participants underlined a lack of soft skills as a trend among ‘bad hires’ at their organisations.

To continue developing employee soft skills critical for future success, L&D professionals can benefit from the following tips:

  1. Select new recruits on their ability to continue to learn and grow. Technology designed to assess learning requirements should be deployed at the recruitment stage to assess candidate skill levels, and give an idea about his or her willingness to learn. The cost of hiring and onboarding new employees means that employee retention is critical to bottom-line business success.
  2. Make data work in your favour. HR and L&D professionals need to break down learning data so that they have visibility of both individual and team skills. It is crucial that L&D professionals act now to collect this data efficiently and effectively, as it is only a matter of time before machine learning will be able to predict workforce requirements, based on this applied data. Also, consider whether you are asking the right questions. Are you approaching employees for the answers to these questions in a way that will enable you to get the information you need? Is there a system or technology to support this? Are you able to visualise data in a way that is useful to the organisation?
  3. Create a culture of continuous learning. When it comes to language and communication skills, many organisations typically have very little understanding of employee skill levels, as well as individual and managerial goals and aspirations. It is vital to assess ongoing soft skills acquisitions, while simultaneously making a point to regularly revisit the needs and goals of employees. Learning solution and service providers can help with assessments, providing tools, dashboards and data analytics to collect and analyse useful information. In organisations that deal with sensitive information, it might make more sense to collate aggregated, anonymised data from teams and groups rather than focus on individuals.
  4. Carve out time for learning. For L&D professionals, a lack of time is regularly cited as the main obstacle in the way of successful learning. The majority of learners who do not successfully complete a learning programme say they simply didn’t have the time. To address this, L&D professionals need to consider a day in the life of the employee. Where might there be more opportunities for quick bursts of micro-learning? Instead of rolling out a programme in which everyone needs to complete an online lesson, for instance, consider tailoring the learning programme so that someone who is often on-the-go or traveling for work can do some quick exercises on his or her mobile, while waiting for coffee, standing in line for an airport taxi, etc. Understand that time for learning doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody.
  5. Make it meaningful. Micro-learning must be meaningful to the individual job role at first glance, if the employee is to really engage with it. It is important to explicitly align corporate goals with individual goals. What kind of skills does the business need, and at what level?

In ‘The future of jobs report 2018’, the World Economic Forum concluded that “…imperative for achieving a positive vision of the future of jobs will be an economic and societal move by governments, businesses and individuals towards agile lifelong learning.” 

“Technology-related and non-cognitive soft skills are becoming more important in tandem, and there are significant opportunities…to experiment and invest in new types of education and training provision that will be most useful to individuals in this new labour market context.”

L&D professionals are shooting at an open goal. Millennial employees, now the biggest generational cohort within the workforce, value learning and development opportunities over the salary package. If asked to choose between two similar jobs, nearly 60% would pick the job with strong potential for professional development over one with regular pay raises

Using data more effectively to predict and fulfil soft skills needs is increasingly paramount to engaging and retaining employees and driving business success.


About the author

Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx.


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