Trends to Watch

Blending Hard & Soft Skills to Advance Mobility

This article originally appeared in the May edition of Mobility Magazine.

Shaping human strengths to strategic roles.


The second definition you’ll find in the dictionary for the word “revolution” will say something like “radical and pervasive change in society.” That’s exactly what’s happening now that we are moving forward rapidly into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0.” It’s changing the way we live and work. Technological developments and digital transformations—including advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), robotics, and other innovations—are transfiguring the workplace. What’s the impact going to be on the talent that companies need for their evolving workforces? Will our human skills translate to a digital setting?

There are some daunting predictions surfacing in this regard. The McKinsey Global Institute’s research notes that 6 out of 10 current occupations have more than 30 percent of activities that are technically automatable. McKinsey also has estimated that globally, between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by 2030 because of automation in the workplace.

Related: Mobility 4.0: Global Talent Mobility and Immigration

That’s only part of the change that’s occurring. Not only are the roles for workers becoming more technical, they are becoming more strategic as well. As repetitive tasks are automated, businesses will rely on humans to work alongside automation and to execute work that requires “hard skills”: specific, teachable capabilities such as coding, web design, using software programs, accounting, finance, writing, mathematics, and legal and other quantifiable competencies.

And to make this scenario just a little more intricate, there’s another catch: In an already stretched talent pool, companies are finding that this changing landscape calls for people with a blend of strategic and soft skills (such as high emotional intelligence, communication, flexibility, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving, persuasion, leadership, and collaboration).

Underscoring this concept is the top message in LinkedIn’s just-published “Top 2018 Workplace Learning Trends,” which notes that maintaining technical fluency across roles will be critical, but the pace of change is fueling the demand for adaptable critical thinkers, communicators, and leaders. In short: “Soften the impact of automation.”

This is the most multilayered workplace we’ve ever seen, and it is coupled with the most complex workforce we’ve experienced—one that has a striking scarcity of talent and skills and is demographically and generationally diverse. Coupled with a movement toward entrepreneurism and a desire for flexibility and independence, this labor force is shifting even further with a growing segment of contingent workers that is changing the ratio of traditional full-time employees to gig workers. These factors foretell a radical change in the way companies will be staffing for talent and skills needs—and they also emphasize the need for substantive learning channels. Since hard skills are teachable, one of the workforce solutions emerging is to hire or redirect those with soft skills, who can then be trained for strategic roles where companies need that type of talent.

Teaching and Training

“What we see happening in the future of work isn’t just an employer and talent issue: All of us in the workforce must commit to a learning focus, to recurrently seek upskilling, reskilling, and transition guidance to prepare for new jobs or to stay relevant in current ones,” says Janelle Piatkowski, SGMS, president and CEO of Cornerstone Relocation Group.

“Some of the actions leading companies are offering for continuing education or upskilling include such elements as career mentoring, leadership programs for professional training and development, on-the-job training, developing their own in-house learning, or partnering with universities and learning platforms.”

Mentoring, though not a classic form of training, is growing in importance as companies develop leadership pipelines and succession plans. In addition to directly educating their mentees, mentors can be sounding boards for decision-making, identify professional development opportunities, discuss career pathing, and give feedback on professional strengths. In the Heidrick & Struggles study “Creating a Culture of Mentorship,” more than 75 percent of respondents noted that mentoring was a significant factor in learning about their company and its business objectives, and in their career success. The report goes on to note that “companies that offer mentoring effectively have a competitive edge in the fight for talent,” because organizations with mentoring programs are viewed as more attractive places to work and retain employees at a higher rate. “Reverse mentoring” can also be applied, matching a junior employee with a more senior one to close a firm’s digital skills gap or to educate about younger generations in the interest of a more productive work environment.

Read the rest of this article in this month’s edition of Mobility Magazine.

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