Soft Skills Last Longer Than Hard Ones
Over a career that will most likely span decades, soft skills, rather than hard skills, are the lasting ones.
‘'Hard skills such as programming languages, cloud computing, app development and the like will come and go as needs change and as automation takes over. But, basic knowledge of the liberal arts such as history, logic, philosophy, psychology, and languages along with math and physics will endure. When a general education is coupled with practical training, the workforce gains resilience. This is how we can rebuild a workforce capable of meeting the challenges automation and robotics bring.
The focus is slowly moving away from only seeking narrowly educated specialists and engineers. Google, Microsoft, IBM and many other firms are already focusing on hiring people who have the ability and willingness to continuously learn and who have a cooperative mindset.
Alternatives to Formal Education
There are several ways employers and governments can help currently employed people or those who are unemployed gain broader and more resilient skills.
#1. Employers can provide more internal training and development for both current employees and perhaps even for prospective employees through online courses, learning portals, and other interactive, virtual tools. Every employer should be encouraging workers to get new skills. And, they should be willing to pay for employees to get those skills through tuition reimbursement or even partnerships with local schools which provide training at no cost through negotiated contracts with employers.
IBM is one example of what can be done. According to a recent New York Times article “In the last two years, nearly a third of IBM’s new hires … have not had four-year college degrees. IBM has jointly developed curriculums with the local community college, as well as one-year and two-year courses aligned with the company’s hiring needs.” —New York Times 2017-06-28
#2. Traditional educational institutions and practices need to be agile and flexible. We need more institutions that allow people to freely take courses whenever convenient and then combine them for a degree. Some universities are creating nano-courses containing small pieces of learning and which can be stitched together into a full course. Some private firms are creating and delivering a variety MOOCs that deliver learning via video and the Internet and there are a growing number of on-demand learning services and apps for mobile devices. Learning will need to be an all-the-time activity and will continue throughout a lifetime.
Schools like Minerva, founded by Ben Cohen who also founded Snapfish, is providing a low cost, virtual global education through his innovative university. There are numerous other examples of innovation in higher education that are lowering costs and time needed to acquire useful skills.
#3. Apprenticeship programs and other on-the-job learning programs should be encouraged and even subsidized, if necessary, by state and local governments. Many homeless and unemployed could be given useful and employable skills through hands-on programs
3. Federal, state and local governments need to provide funds for retraining and allow welfare payments or some other form of subsidy to those who are motivated to learn. There should be tax rebates or forgiveness for any money spent on learning. Community colleges should be heavily subsidized. Rather than spending tax dollars on reindustrialization, we should be spending it on re-education and training.
Organizations need to rethink what credentials they require for every position and make changes based on demonstrated need for the credential, not on tradition or on assumptions. Credential creep - the increasing number of jobs that now require a degree or other certificate that in the past did not - has made our current talent shortage worse.
Many jobs that require degrees might be reimagined and redesigned to allow people with less education to do them successfully. Practices like this could reduce the perceived talent shortage and improve productivity.
All of our typical organizational processes and structures were created during the 20th century when there was little-automated equipment, no Internet, no email and no way to work remotely. Today people can work anywhere and need less day-to-day management. What they do need is coaching, advice, and someone to set direction. Hierarchy is slowly being replaced with teams and networks of workers, often crossing time zones and geographies.
These trends – automation, globalization, teamwork, less hierarchy, and the need for broader skills – mean that we must find ways to build a workforce capable of dealing agilely with global, complex, and interdependent work. By continuing to focus on and prefer narrow, deep, technically educated people we disable the majority of the workforce.