Does anyone remember the computer language Fortran taught to almost all IT college majors and those in other related fields? Or how about dialing “0” on your rotary phone for an operator to set you up with an international call? These were essential skills that have long faded away — and so have the jobs that went with them.
Job skill requirements continue to change exponentially in today’s world of work. The World Economic Forum provides a comprehensive look at this in their 2018 Future of Jobs Report examining changes to jobs and related skills, today and over a five-year period. Human resources leaders — primarily Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) — from large employers with operations in multiple geographic locations were surveyed. The responses included 313 companies representing over 15 million employees.
The CHRO’s were asked about projected 2022 strategies to address shifting skills that will be needed. The conclusion: no less than 54 percent of all employees will require significant re-skilling and up-skilling before 2022. Even more staggering, writers of the report concluded that 65 percent of school children will graduate into jobs that do not even exist yet.
I’ve had personal experience tackling this problem in an earlier career. At that time, I oversaw employee selection for talent acquisition at Anheuser-Busch Companies (A-B). During that time the decision was made to shut down one of its major subsidiaries – Eagle Snacks. This meant that over 1,000 employees would be let go unless they could fill positions in A-B’s other companies. As you can imagine, there was a great deal of confusion and concern by those employees affected.
I was asked to meet with them and provide guidance on how to prepare for jobs they were not yet familiar with. Anheuser-Busch Companies had developed a strong, system-wide competency model. Like all good and effective competency models, the emphasis was on soft skills (e.g., team orientation, dependability, initiative). Skills that translate across jobs. Sharing this information with the Eagle Snacks employees provided them with a roadmap for preparing to interview for future jobs with A-B.
I’ve noted in earlier articles that soft skills are becoming more important to job success than ever. I refer to soft skills as “work attitude.” You can find these skills or attitude categories in most well-developed competency models of organizations. In my last article, I cited a famous quote by Winston Churchill, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” This is more true than ever in today’s fast-changing world of work.
So how do we prepare our employees and our children for jobs in the future? The Future Jobs Report and other insightful writings offer some guidance. First and foremost, a mindset of agile learning (see Learning Agility: The Key to Leader Potential by Hoff and Burke; Hoff is also nearing publication on his new book, Developing Learning Agility) will be needed for workers. Other soft skills will need as much attention. Learning agility can be broken down into several attributes. Research conducted by Warner Burke at Columbia University shows that there are nine dimensions of learning agility; suffice it to say that adaptability is an underlying theme.
But can soft skills be developed over time? Tomas Chamorro-Premusic tackles this question in his Forbes.com article, “Can You Really Train Softs Skills? Some Answers from the Science of Talent.” Tomas looked at coaching, training and leadership development and their impact on soft skills. He points out that coaching has a moderate-to-strong effect on soft skill performance and overall job performance, especially if assessment is used, such as, 360-degree feedback. This is important since people are especially unaware of their skills when they are unskilled. You must know where to start if you are to move forward.
Soft skills can be improved via focused training interventions according to Premusic. As evidence, he cites a global training market of at least $350 billion. Training programs designed to produce positive results to increase empathy in medical students and physicians have been effective. And there is strong evidence for the effectiveness for creativity training. Premusic reports an estimated 90 percent of programs producing positive results. Leadership programs abound in organizations and some caution is warranted here. The success rate is somewhat questionable. However, well-designed interventions provide encouraging results. Premusic points out that factors determining success have to do with leaders themselves, in particular their baseline level of soft skills. For instance, leaders who are curious (soft skill) pay more attention to feedback and are likely to listen to others to understand where improvements are needed.
It’s clear that “the times they are a changing” and this requires more planning than ever to fill our jobs and to place our employees. We must start with our school systems and look for collaboration from industries. The future is exciting and will offer many opportunities for growth. Let’s hope our different generations of young and old embrace this.
David Smith, PhD, is the president and CEO of E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.