Technology is driving a revolution in the workplace, transforming both the way we work and the job opportunities available. And given the pace of change there is growing recognition amongst employers and educators that it is very difficult to predict with any certainty, or level of detail, the jobs of the future.

Instead, we are starting to have a much broader debate about what the common or core skills are that we will increasingly need – and many of these skills are the truly human capabilities such as empathy and collaboration, creativity, judgment and critical thinking, resilience and attitude. These essential skills are fundamental to how people work effectively together in organisations, as well as to how they engage with customers and other external stakeholders.

Yet, despite the growing importance of these core transferable skills, many employers are struggling to access them. The Employers skills survey shows employers who report recruitment difficulties are finding that it is these soft skills that applicants mainly lack. These challenges are not just visible amongst new recruits and school leavers but extend into the workplace and affect employees at all ages and stages of their careers. For instance, it is soft skills overall that employers report most commonly as requiring improvement amongst existing employees. And these skills gap affect the bottom line – impacting on organisations ability to introduce new products, processes and services.

So, what can we do as HR professionals to help employees and businesses to tackle this challenge and prepare for the future? Well to start with, it’s widely recognised that many of these skills need to be gained through real experience of the world of work, and as a profession we need to ensure that young people have as many, and as varied, opportunities as possible to engage with employers whilst still in education. For example, this could be achieved through activities such as work experience, careers talks and site visits, as well as through access to part time summer holidays and weekend jobs.

However, action at the level of schools, colleges and university alone is not sufficient. Most of the 2040 workforce are already in work, and we also need to support our workforces to develop these skill sets throughout their careers.

We know that many progressive organisations are already responding to these challenges, and increasingly looking to recruit on values, behaviours and strengths, with the expectation that they will have to train for the technical and job specific skills their organisations need.

Yet, we also know that in many cases, after recruitment and induction has taken place, the focus on addressing gaps in employees soft and people skills stops - unless they reach leadership and management level later in their careers.

We need to move away from this fragmented approach towards a much more strategic way of addressing soft skills gaps and development needs for all employees at all stages of the career lifecycle.

And what are we as the representative organisation for the people profession doing to help? Part of the challenge– for educators and businesses alike - in addressing the soft skill deficit, it that we lack a shared understanding, and common language of what these are, and how to define, assess, and measure them.

In recognition of this the CIPD has come together, as the Essential Skills Taskforce to champion a united approach to develop a clear, measurable and authoritative framework to define the assessment and development of these core transferable skills, and to provide individuals, and employers, with the tools they need to succeed in the future workplace.

We have embarked on a rigorous programme of research, which will culminate in Summer next year, and I look forward to working with the people profession, alongside the wider business community, educators and training providers, to tackle this long-standing challenge and equip the workforce with the skills needed to succeed now and in the future.

About the author

Lizzie Crowley, Senior Policy Adviser - Skills

Lizzie is a policy and research professional with over 13 years’ experience in the employment and skills arena, having worked with both the public and private sector to develop high-quality research to inform organisational practice, public policy and shape the public debate.

Prior to joining the CIPD Lizzie led The Work Foundation's research and policy development on the youth labour market – and has published a number of influential reports on youth unemployment. She has regularly appeared on national and regional TV and radio, including BBC Breakfast, BBC the One Show, the Today Programme and Channel 4 news. Lizzie graduated in Sociology and has a master's degree in Social Science Research Methods, both from the University of Glasgow.

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