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The importance of soft skills in the post-COVID landscape



The importance of soft skills in the post-COVID landscape 1

By Nikolas Kairinos, Founder and CEO, Soffos

For quite some time now, workplace learning and development (L&D) has been on the backburner. With the COVID-19 pandemic quickly becoming a dominating presence in most organizations, business leaders have had a lot to consider. Whether this has meant navigating furloughs, changes to business propositions, or getting to grips with new working from home setups, attention to professional development was naturally put to one side.

On the whole, businesses have dealt well with the adjustments. So successful have working from home practices been, that business leaders worldwide have been engaged in discussion as to whether they should continue even after the pandemic no longer poses a risk to public health. In fact, a staggering 82% of companies are set to maintain a partial work-from-home structure in the aftermath of the crisis, a recent Gartner report has revealed.

Having now become accustomed to the new business as usual, HR leaders will be considering ways to extend progress to the matter of employee management, performance and training strategies. And even at the best of times, with staff members each requiring unique support to progress in their role, this can be a mammoth task.

Long before the onset of the pandemic, when notions of large-scale digital transformation were nothing but a distant dream, more than half of HR leaders were already having some trouble priming their staff for the digital era. But now more than ever, the workforce needs to upskill. The nature of our jobs is changing year on year, and the issue is now becoming chronic.

If anything, the coronavirus has exposed a looming skills gap that existed before the pandemic ever reared its head. The use of technology as part of our day-to-day at work has increased to such a magnitude that fresh commitments of time and resource are required from all businesses to ensure that professionals have the skills they need to perform the jobs of the future.

With this in mind, how can HR managers plug the skills gap, and better support their staff so that they can thrive in the digital era?

Creating a people-centric HR strategy

The public health crisis has encouraged firms to invest in the tools needed to make remote collaboration possible. Not only have businesses learned that a deft combination of software and hardware makes virtual teamwork possible, but also that, in many ways, it offers a better alternative to in-office working.

But while early evidence of productivity gains is a positive development, business’ growing reliance on digital solutions has exposed gaps when it comes to ensuring that staff are satisfied with their professional development and future career prospects.

Workplace learning, for instance, has emerged as one of the hardest-hit business activities on a global scale, with roughly one-half of in person programs cancelled or postponed in North America according to McKinsey. Worse yet, in some parts of Asia and Europe, the figure is closer to 100%.

As new recruits are onboarded and existing employees settle into newly established routines, it is paramount that HR leaders return their focus to supporting their professional and personal development. Having offered a critical business support function in times of difficulty, HR teams should now strive to be a strategic contributor to employee wellbeing and success. The focus must now be on monitoring performance, building strong relationships and delivering valuable knowledge that will help workers excel in their roles. In doing so, I would encourage HR professionals to explore people-centric technologies that can cater to employees’ individual needs.

Scheduling regular check-ins with staff over a preferred virtual platform, whether that is Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype, is a habit that many business leaders have already adopted. But as video conferencing fatigue sets in, the future of the workplace will hardly be stilted in endless Zoom calls. So, business leaders must look further afield to new innovations as they develop long-term L&D strategies.

Nikolas Kairinos

Nikolas Kairinos

Immersive virtual environments that can be created through augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), for instance, will soon reign supreme as businesses explore solutions that can deliver more engaging training experiences. So too will sophisticated platforms able to curate learning programs for individual employees. Those tasked with upskilling the workforce should therefore also look to solutions powered by technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), which can develop L&D initiatives tailored to the individual learning style, preferences, motivations and challenges of each employee.

Looking to the future: developing soft skills

As we enter a new era of digitization, it is important to help employees build the hard skills needed to adapt: analytical and data-centred capabilities are amongst those that will be in increasing demand in the years ahead.

But we cannot let a strong focus on technical upskilling mean that equally important “soft skills” become side-lined. The truth is, the term “soft skills” is a bit of a misnomer, and as automation becomes more prevalent in the workforce, they will only become more crucial.

Generally speaking, the processes that are easiest to complete – data-focused and repetitive tasks – are the easiest to automate. In the near future, these responsibilities will be delegated to machines, who will take on much of the grunt-work. The same cannot be said, however, for soft skills.

Soft skills are the essential interpersonal skills that can make or break a business’ ability to get things done. Recruiters and businesses will soon gravitate towards a broader set of qualities as they search for people to work alongside the technology. Skills such as analytical thinking and innovation, complex problem-solving, communication and leadership will all be in hot demand. To this end, HR strategists would do well to nurture these skills in their employees going forward.

A good first step would be to conduct a training needs assessment and determine which abilities employees need or want to progress in their roles. Ask members of staff which areas they would like to develop, whether this is honing their skills as a leader, or working on their active listening skills. Of course, this can be completed virtually with little fuss, and training staff can conduct their online classrooms using videoconferencing software.

In the near future, these sessions might take the form of moderated VR classrooms, or even without the oversight of humans at all. Natural language tutor bots capable of bestowing knowledge and understanding through simple conversation will soon be on hand to plug any professional skills gaps. Businesses should therefore look to investing some of their resource in this technology to aid L&D.

Ultimately, there is much to be optimistic about. Recent research by has revealed that the majority (54%) of firms have become more open to embracing tech in the wake of the pandemic. I am confident that businesses will continue to invest strategically in progressive toolsets, thereby ensuring that employees are primed to thrive in an increasingly automated workplace.

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Sunak to use budget to expand apprenticeships in England



Sunak to use budget to expand apprenticeships in England 2

LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak will announce more funding for apprenticeships in England when he unveils his budget next week, the government said on Friday.

Employers taking part in the Apprenticeship Initiative Scheme will from April 1 receive 3,000 pounds ($4,179) for each apprentice hired, regardless of age – an increase on current grants of between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds depending on age.

The scheme will extended by six months until the end of September, the finance ministry said.

Sunak will also announce an extra 126 million pounds for traineeships for up to 43,000 placements.

Sunak’s March 3 budget will likely include a new round of spending to prop up the economy during what he hopes will be the last phase of lockdown, but he will also probably signal tax rises ahead to plug the huge hole in the public finances.

Sunak is also expected to announce a “flexi-job” apprenticeship scheme, whereby apprentices can join an agency and work for multiple employers in one sector, the finance ministry said.

“We know there’s more to do and it’s vital this continues throughout the next stage of our recovery, which is why I’m boosting support for these programmes, helping jobseekers and employers alike,” Sunak said in a statement.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken)

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UK seeks G7 consensus on digital competition after Facebook blackout



UK seeks G7 consensus on digital competition after Facebook blackout 3

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is seeking to build a consensus among G7 nations on how to stop large technology companies exploiting their dominance, warning that there can be no repeat of Facebook’s one-week media blackout in Australia.

Facebook’s row with the Australian government over payment for local news, although now resolved, has increased international focus on the power wielded by tech corporations.

“We will hold these companies to account and bridge the gap between what they say they do and what happens in practice,” Britain’s digital minister Oliver Dowden said on Friday.

“We will prevent these firms from exploiting their dominance to the detriment of people and the businesses that rely on them.”

Dowden said recent events had strengthened his view that digital markets did not currently function properly.

He spoke after a meeting with Facebook’s Vice-President for Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister.

“I put these concerns to Facebook and set out our interest in levelling the playing field to enable proper commercial relationships to be formed. We must avoid such nuclear options being taken again,” Dowden said in a statement.

Facebook said in a statement that the call had been constructive, and that it had already struck commercial deals with most major publishers in Britain.

“Nick strongly agreed with the Secretary of State’s (Dowden’s) assertion that the government’s general preference is for companies to enter freely into proper commercial relationships with each other,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Britain will host a meeting of G7 leaders in June.

It is seeking to build consensus there for coordinated action toward “promoting competitive, innovative digital markets while protecting the free speech and journalism that underpin our democracy and precious liberties,” Dowden said.

The G7 comprises the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada, but Australia has also been invited.

Britain is working on a new competition regime aimed at giving consumers more control over their data, and introducing legislation that could regulate social media platforms to prevent the spread of illegal or extremist content and bullying.

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)


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Britain to offer fast-track visas to bolster fintechs after Brexit



Britain to offer fast-track visas to bolster fintechs after Brexit 4

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Friday it would offer a fast-track visa scheme for jobs at high-growth companies after a government-backed review warned that financial technology firms will struggle with Brexit and tougher competition for global talent.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said that now Britain has left the European Union, it wants to make sure its immigration system helps businesses attract the best hires.

“This new fast-track scale-up stream will make it easier for fintech firms to recruit innovators and job creators, who will help them grow,” Sunak said in a statement.

Over 40% of fintech staff in Britain come from overseas, and the new visa scheme, open to migrants with job offers at high-growth firms that are scaling up, will start in March 2022.

Brexit cut fintechs’ access to the EU single market and made it far harder to employ staff from the bloc, leaving Britain less attractive for the industry.

The review published on Friday and headed by Ron Kalifa, former CEO of payments fintech Worldpay, set out a “strategy and delivery model” that also includes a new 1 billion pound ($1.39 billion) start-up fund.

“It’s about underpinning financial services and our place in the world, and bringing innovation into mainstream banking,” Kalifa told Reuters.

Britain has a 10% share of the global fintech market, generating 11 billion pounds ($15.6 billion) in revenue.

The review said Brexit, heavy investment in fintech by Australia, Canada and Singapore, and the need to be nimbler as COVID-19 accelerates digitalisation of finance, all mean the sector’s future in Britain is not assured.

It also recommends more flexible listing rules for fintechs to catch up with New York.

“We recognise the need to make the UK attractive a more attractive location for IPOs,” said Britain’s financial services minister John Glen, adding that a separate review on listings rules would be published shortly.

“Those findings, along with Ron’s report today, should provide an excellent evidence base for further reform.”


Britain pioneered “sandboxes” to allow fintechs to test products on real consumers under supervision, and the review says regulators should move to the next stage and set up “scale-boxes” to help fintechs navigate red tape to grow.

“It’s a question of knowing who to call when there’s a problem,” said Kay Swinburne, vice chair of financial services at consultants KPMG and a contributor to the review.

A UK fintech wanting to serve EU clients would have to open a hub in the bloc, an expensive undertaking for a start-up.

“Leaving the EU and access to the single market going away is a big deal, so the UK has to do something significant to make fintechs stay here,” Swinburne said.

The review seeks to join the dots on fintech policy across government departments and regulators, and marshal private sector efforts under a new Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (CFIT).

“There is no framework but bits of individual policies, and nowhere does it come together,” said Rachel Kent, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells and contributor to the review.

($1 = 0.7064 pounds)

(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Jane Merriman and John Stonestreet)


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