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5 Ways To Help Employees Develop Skills For The Future

01/28/2016 01:13 EST | Updated 01/28/2017 05:12 EST
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As technology, culture and social norms are all changing rapidly, employers need talent that can combine technical know-how with general capabilities, or soft skills. As such, hiring managers are now looking for more than IQ and EQ in prospective employees. In this environment, Randstad Canada thought it would be fitting to introduce a new notion that combines the two - AQ, or the agility quotient, which means the ability to anticipate and interact with these ever-changing social, cultural and economic conditions.

According to a recent survey from Ipsos and Randstad Canada, 87 per cent of respondents believe that soft skills, which are at the core of the agility quotient, are important in the workplace. More importantly, the results shed light on what the most desirable soft skills are across the country:

  • Novel & adaptive thinking (61 per cent) -- Being able to think differently through times of quick and immense change. Organizations and workers who want to remain relevant and competent have to keep learning, looking ahead, and understanding new realities in order to create value.
  • Social intelligence (55 per cent) -- This is not just about being nice to people, but about understanding people's emotional triggers. This is the ability to take a more human approach to business, connect and engage in a meaningful and personal manner, and ask the right questions.
  • Sense-making (55 per cent) -- The ability to "connect the dots," to generate ideas and create new strategies that draw from a variety of disciplines and experiences.

Not only were these three soft skills cited as most important overall, but an additional key takeaway from the survey results was that respondents indicated that these are also the skills most lacking in the workplace. Moreover, these top three soft skills (to varying degrees of importance) were selected as the most important regardless of level of employment, industry or gender. This makes it clear that future workers aren't adequately prepared to meet the fulsome needs of today's employers.

We can identify that these skills are desirable, but it seems we're not sure how to get there. Employees need the right tools to adapt and develop these skills. Those who can develop these skills, and the employers who can hone employee agility, will have a competitive edge in the future, and be more likely to succeed.

Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" solution to ensure employees possess the vast array of skills needed in the workplace. However, there are huge benefits in consciously and carefully conceptualizing and implementing programs to develop the skills of employees. With 92 per cent of respondents saying they believe there are ways to develop and improve these soft skills, the desire and mindset is there.

Here are five ways employers can help their employees hone and develop soft skills:

1. Help employees see the big picture. Make sure employees understand the goals of the organization as a whole and how his or her department contributes.

Employees often lack the background information to see how their work fits into the big picture. Managers are quick to explain the "what," "when," and "how much," for a task, but often forget to include the "why."

2. Commit to coaching and mentoring employees.

According to survey respondents, mentorship and coaching was selected most often (40 per cent) as the best way to assist in developing and improving soft skills. Take time to discuss with employees how they want to be coached (frequency, format, etc.), and on what specific skills. Be clear about expectations and give them exercises that are both challenging but achievable at their skill level.

3. Diversify your training programs.

Job-swapping and cross-training programs are a good way to help employees learn about other parts of the business and facilitate cohesion and relationship building between teams. Employees with a greater understanding of how your business operates as a whole are better equipped to make enlightened decisions and solve complex problems.

4. Strengthen their critical thinking.

When an employee comes to you with a problem, don't just offer them a quick solution. Help them form their own opinions and evaluate all aspects of an issue to come up with their own solution. A great way to accomplish this and push employees to think more deeply about an issue is to ask them questions and allow them to make and learn from their own mistakes.

5. Nurture a culture of innovation.

We're all crunched for time, and another deadline is always looming. This doesn't leave much time for critical thinking or innovation. Encourage collaboration by creating cross-functional project teams with people from various disciplines in your organization. Organize innovation think tanks where people can brainstorm ideas to develop a service or a product. This will foster engagement while training employees to consider many viewpoints when reflecting on an issue or idea.

*The skills of the future included in this Ipsos and Randstad Canada survey were sourced from The Institute for the Future "Future Skills 2020."

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