Soft Skills Matter

Posted on Feb 05, 2015

Eighty-eight billion pounds sterling – that is the value of soft skills to the UK economy.

It’s a significant sum but then these are vital attributes. We used to call them ‘people’ skills. They are the traits that make us human and allow us to get on with others and foster positive relationships with customers and colleagues.

They include:

  • Team working
  • Decision-making
  • Communications skills
  • Initiative
  • Inter-personal skills
  • Self-management
  • Taking responsibility

Their value has been calculated by research group Development Economics as part of a campaign by McDonald’s to raise awareness of the importance of soft skills to the nation. The study reveals that soft skills currently underpin 6.5% of the economy as a whole and their value is growing. By 2020, their annual economic contribution is expected to increase to £109 billion with that reaching £127 billion by 2025.

But there is evidence of a worrying neglect of soft skills in Britain. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills(UKCES) thinks soft skills are associated with 33% to 40% of all reported skills shortage vacancies. The McDonald’s report spells out the impact this can have:

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Soft skills gaps and shortages are not just a minor irritant for employers: these skills deficits can cause major problems and disruptions for business and result in increased costs and diminished competitiveness and profitability

So the call has gone out for employers, government bodies and workers to do more to fill the soft skills gap.

It’s also a challenge for the elearning industry.

Creative Techniques

Organisations have been using elearning for soft skills training for some time now. At Sponge, we have worked with clients in a number of soft skills areas including performance management, appraisals, leadership and difficult conversations. These can be particularly rewarding projects to work on as they require creative techniques to enable people to develop and explore their behaviours and attitudes. There is no set way to teach people soft skills but there are some elearning methods that have worked particularly well for our clients.

A good example is an elearning module we created for the global snack manufacturer, United Biscuits. The course called ABC of Driving Performance is aimed at providing team leaders and managers with tips and guidance on areas such as constructive feedback and coaching performance. It features video clips of an appraisal meeting between a fictitious factory manager and his boss. Providing the learner with examples of effective ways to deal with difficult conversations is a great way to support soft skills development. 

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We are also exploring how elearning games might be useful in helping to develop soft skills. Games have the potential to offer learners a safe space to practice where they can see the consequences of their decisions, and replay a scenario to test a variety of approaches. We’ve developed a demonstration management skills game using interactive video which deals with difficult conversations. Play the Demo

Particular Advantages

For organisations and businesses looking to invest in soft skills and enhance the support they offer to their staff, elearning has some particular advantages compared to other training methods.

It is flexible and does not require learners to be in a particular place or be available at a particular time to access the course.

It is consistent so all staff are given a grounding in the attitudes and behaviours expected of everyone in organisation.

It is scalable so a business can easily share the same training with its entire workforce worldwide or add new elements as required.

It is a foundation for learners and can be used in conjunction with face-to-face training where employees can practice what they have learnt.

Some organisations may be most interested in using elearning to bridge the gap in soft skills because of its potential to resonant with young learners. The McDonald’s report includes a whole section on soft skills and the entry of young people into the workplace. It cites a report by ACEVO - the Charity Leaders Network. This suggests that the lack of soft skills is a barrier to employment for some young people in the UK. For businesses who want to invest in young workers, elearning is a good fit. It can provide bite-size training which is easy to digest and available at the point of need. Crucially, it can be accessed through a smartphone or tablet using new technology such as the Adapt responsive framework, so it fits into the lives of young people on the devices they prefer to use.

By doing more to support the improvement and development of soft skills, employers can invest in areas which improve customer service, workplace performance and ultimately the economy as a whole. But they can also help their workers to hone valuable skills which will benefit them throughout their lives.