Why “Soft skills” are no longer a nice-to-have

Planning for 2020 and beyond

Richard Lehnerdt

Following the "Future of Jobs "report released by the World Economic Forum in January this year, it is clear that not only will there be challenging times ahead, but that planning for skills development needs to be taken seriously.  The 167 page report, called “the future of jobs” can be summarised as follows:

  • Advances in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology are laying a foundation for a revolution.
  • Most occupations are undergoing fundamental transformation. Some jobs are threatened by redundancy, other growing rapidly and existing jobs require change in skill sets.
  • The worst case scenario could be talent shortages coupled with mass unemployment and growing inequality.
  • 65% of children entering primary school today will end up doing job types that do not exist today.

The top 5 drivers of change are

  • Changing nature of work and flexible work
  • Mobile, Internet and Cloud technologies
  • Increasing processing power and big data
  • Middle class in emerging markets
  • Climate change

Most of the drivers support job growth. A few, including geopolitical volatility, artificial intelligence, could lead to job losses.


Computing, mathematical and engineering job types will see the highest growth prospects, while office/administrative and manufacturing/production job types will see contraction.

The report highlights core work-related skills (Figure 9 – Page 21) that seemed to have come out of a Common Core evaluation form

Women make between 30-40% less than men in many industries. The top 3 barriers to gender parity are

  • Unconscious bias among managers
  • Lack of work-life balance
  • Lack of role models

The report has a lot more information on above topics, different regions of the world and industries. It is a worthy effort to understand how HR departments in large companies perceive the jobs conundrum. The report would be lot more comprehensive if it had covered the crystal ball for the vast majority of people that work in the informal sector in the developing world and emerging economies. The country profile for South Africa can be found here, and the outlook is challenging..

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The rapid pace of change in the business environment and rapidly changing business models are resulting in a near-simultaneous impact on skill sets for both current and emerging jobs across industries.  To quote from the report:

” On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills— such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.”.

Personal and professional effectiveness training is the best strategy to prosper and succeed in this era of technological advancements. Both individuals and organisations must be prepared to develop and utilise new skills in order to keep up with the times. Soft skills represent a fundamental attribute which today’s knowledge based economy is demanding of its employers, employees and businesses.  With this high demand for soft skills, it will be important to choose your training provider wisely, and ensure that your training investment is not wasted.

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