Why we're going soft at work

HR leaders believe that almost 1 in 5 graduates are not 'workplace-ready' because they lack crucial skills.

At first glance there is one really surprising thing about recent research by Pearson Business School stating that HR leaders believe that almost 1 in 5 graduates are not 'workplace-ready' because they lack crucial skills. The real shock is that this figure is not much higher.

When you delve further into the results, however, the true picture becomes clearer. Another two thirds of graduates were found to be only 'somewhat' ready for the workplace.

This is a damning indictment of our (costly) university education system, which after all is there to help prepare people for work. More than that. It pushes the responsibility of training firmly into the hands of employers who want and need new talent.

And it appears to be the soft skills which are hard to achieve and access. Almost half of the 531 HR managers polled said graduates lacked leadership skills, while a similar number identified skills gaps in negotiation and strategy and planning.

However, it is not just the new young workforce that should have a soft spot when it comes to future skills.

McKinsey has identified that 50% of current work activities are technically automatable by adapting currently demonstrated technologies and that 6 in 10 current occupations have more than 30% of activities that are technically automatable. This adds up to a massive impact on the global workforce over the next decades - starting now. But you can't automate everything.

In the future of work, soft skills have never been more important - from communication and presentation skills to mentoring, negotiation and leadership.

Skills that can't be easily automated, skills that add value to any organisation or technology, skills that are adaptable to the rapid change and transformation that will be the hallmark of the way business is done and colleagues interact.

For the foreseeable future, it appears companies will need to constantly develop and nurture soft skills for young and experienced colleagues alike - across all walks of the organisation. The alternative is running a business which becomes increasingly difficult to innovate, grow and develop in an uncertain, globally competitive and challenging new world.

The good news. Soft skills may be hard to find, but not so hard to develop, nurture and grow.

That is why taking the soft option is not always the bad choice...