Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft

As the digital economy continues to develop, organisations are changing their recruitment and development strategies to source the technical skills required to deliver online products and services. To a large extent, this is normal activity and reflects the influence of market forces on the demand for talent.

The rapid pace of change is, however, creating a significant and growing digital skills gap, with the UK estimated to lose out on $68 billion in GDP per year because of it. And as employers compete for scarce talent, they inevitably look towards younger demographics who have entered the workforce as ‘digital natives’.

But in the rush to secure focused technical ability, employers must balance their approach so that it also delivers on the soft skills also required in the modern economy. These include diverse capabilities, ranging from teamwork and communication to problem solving, emotional judgement, professional ethics and life experience.

Often associated with more experienced, mature employees, these are not just ‘nice to have’ qualities that wrap around technical ability, they are fundamental to business success. They also represent another important influence on the jobs market, although perhaps without the sense of urgency associated with technical skills.

In fact, a paper by Deloitte predicted that soft skill intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030, compared to just half that level in 2000. What’s more, the number of jobs in soft-skill intensive occupations is expected to grow at more than twice the rate of jobs in other occupations.

Why? Despite the rise of workplace automation, soft skills are very unlikely to be replaced by technology - at least for now. Whether it’s the ability to exercise sound social judgment, critical thinking, or the ability to draw on years of previous experience, maturity remains vital in any rounded organisation.

Despite this, in many organisations, soft skills are the poor relation to technical ability. For some, they remain ill-defined, informal and intangible. As a result, they may benefit from a fresh perspective to ensure they are sufficiently valued. As HR analyst Josh Bersin puts it, “Hard Skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn), and Soft Skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to obtain)”. Instead, he suggests we “stop talking about soft skills” and focus on the role of “Power skills” - which depend on behavioural capabilities that are so important in the workplace and are often higher up the CVs of mature employees.

Diversity Holds The Key

The point is, employers need both youth and experience, and technical specialists alongside people with power skills. After the first few years in the world of work, for example, people sometimes develop more dramatically in their outlook, their ability to communicate, to show empathy and their role in the development of others than around their core technical skills.

This development is rarely innate and is hard to instill with formal training. Instead, it can be summed up with the idea that experience and maturity bring their own positive qualities and values. As many people who climb the corporate ladder discover, maturity is also about being in a position to offer sound advice based on real world experience, and to become a teacher to younger people who may possess deep technical knowledge but sometimes welcome the guidance of a older colleague.

Experience is also vital in overcoming problems or dealing with pressure. Most mature employees will relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed in the early stages of their career, but also to the value of someone older who helped avert a crisis or kept them calm under the spotlight. On the flipside, becoming a mentor to a less experienced colleague can be hugely rewarding and motivating, delivering benefits not just to the individuals involved, but to the organisation as a whole.

Studies such as those carried out by the University of Zurich have found that gender, ethnically and culturally diverse organisations perform better, and an increase in age diversity can deliver substantial productivity benefits, particularly in innovative and creative companies.

As the contemporary workplace continues to change, younger generations will always need the guidance and support that only maturity can bring. As we see people all over the world begin their working careers via video instead of alongside their colleagues in the workplace, access to experience may now be more important than ever.

Whether it’s maintaining standards, sticking to rules or providing informal on-the-job training, maturity is a gold mine for employers who value continuity and a nurturing environment that can balance the qualities present in every age group. They discount it at their peril.

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft

Agata Nowakowska is Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft, where she leads the field operations, to include enterprise and small & mid-market, as well as channel sales/strategic alliances across Europe, Middle East and Africa.

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