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Soft skills in the age of automation

The fourth industrial revolution, which describes the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds, is already having a profound effect on the way we work. Covid-19 has further accelerated the pace of the fourth industrial revolution by pushing organisations to adapt to new technology in order to survive. This has led to questions of what skillsets will be most relevant in the age of automation. 

What are soft skills and why are they important?

As automation transforms the workplace, we are seeing the importance of soft skills grow in parallel.  Soft skills refer to a variety of interpersonal abilities that enable a person to interact effectively with others such as communication, leadership and negotiation. Since soft skills are basically developed through experience, they need to be nurtured with a long-term perspective.

It may seem that talent acquisition strategies among organisations often place emphasis on technical skills which demonstrate a person’s experience and understanding of a measurable ability. However, soft skills are just as important as they are critical for driving business. Whether you are planning to find a new job opportunity or are aiming for a promotion, investing in acquiring and developing soft skills is an important strategy for career advancement.

Top soft skills in demand

So what particular skills are employers looking for? We asked 115 companies in Asia what soft skills they think will be most in-demand in the post-pandemic era and here are the top four.

1. Communication: When we asked employers what skill will be needed the most after Covid-19, communication came out on top. Since the ability to communicate effectively in the workplace is vital to establishing and maintaining relationships both internally and externally, companies highly value communication skills among employees.  

2. Leadership: Another important soft skill, leadership requires competencies such as empathy, critical thinking, and agility to guide others while fulfilling the organisation’s goals and mission.  Quality leadership fosters unity and motivates employees to contribute towards achieving shared objectives.

3. Crisis management: The disruption of businesses worldwide by Covid-19 served as a reminder of how crucial of a soft skill crisis management is. Crisis management refers to the ability to identify and address threats to the integrity or survival of a business. If the pandemic has taught businesses anything, it is that there is a dire need for crisis management skills to ensure that organisations can cope with the drastic changes in their methods of conducting business in times of uncertainty.

4. Collaboration/Teamwork: After more than a year of work from home arrangements, organisations and professionals alike are reminded of just how important collaboration among teams is. Becoming an effective collaborator requires understanding a variety of perspectives, managing priorities of each group member, and delivering what is expected of you as part of the team. Employees that function effectively as part of a team and balance their personal achievements with group goals are highly sought after by organisations. 

How to develop soft skills

Because there is no clear criteria for evaluating soft skills, acquiring and developing them may not be as straightforward as technical skills that you can obtain through on-the-job training. To get you started, here are tips on what steps to take in developing soft skills.

1. Reflect on your current skillset

Taking a moment to assess your current reality sets a foundation for you to work on. Look back at your career and update yourself on your strengths, weaknesses and skillsets. Once you have a clearer picture of where you are, the next step is to revisit your career goals in order to work out your desired end state and timeline to get there. What are the practical actions you can take and what soft skills will you need to work on to head towards your imagined finish line? This self-reflection can help you gain a better understanding of areas for upskilling and subsequently create a targeted strategy to reach your goals.

2. Seek feedback  

An important step to improving soft skills is being receptive to feedback from supervisors, managers and even co-workers. Rather than taking feedback personally, it is more beneficial to accept constructive criticism and utilise it to improve in your responsibilities and soft skills. It is important to realise that our perceptions of reality may be different from others, so make it a habit to seek regular feedback on your communication skills, time management, leadership potential, etc. Once you have received feedback, start developing a plan, either on your own or with the support of your manager, to continue improving.

3. Tap into available resources

There are many types of resources available for picking up and mastering soft skills that can cater to your learning needs. Podcasts, books, and online publications that focus on professional development are popular and easily accessible resources that do not require major time commitments. On the other hand, if you’re seeking more in-depth training, you can opt to register for paid courses. If you prefer more visual and interactive resources, you can explore webinars, participate in live sessions by career coaches on SNS platforms, join in a conversation and network with other professionals in online social media groups, search for videos on relevant career topics, or listen to your favourite podcasts and TED talks.

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