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Who’s Responsible for Human Skill Development in the Workforce? You May Be Surprised…

Oct 16, 2018
“We now have hard evidence that you have to have soft skills to succeed.”
– Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman

You have probably already heard a lot about soft skills and maybe even heard author Bruce Tulgan’s truism that employers hire for technical skills and fire for poor soft skills.

Yeah, yeah. Soft skills. Human skills. What skills are we really talking about?

According to The World Economic Forum, the recommended soft skills we should prioritize by 2020 are:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision-making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Certainly, different industries may shuffle the rank order of these 10 competencies. Yet even though we may agree in concept these skills are emerging as critical for addressing disruption now and in the near term, who is doing something about it?


Who is “They?”

While many seem to be focused upon the degree to workforce pathway to cultivate a better prepared pipeline for employers, that’s just one issue to solve. More challenging is up-skilling mature professionals who have relied upon their technical skills within industries that are now being disrupted by technology and automation. As tech assumes more and more of our repeatable tasks – gathering information, calculating, analyzing, pattern recognition, and reporting with incredible speed and accuracy – the critical roles these pros play are intrinsically human. And consultative.

Yes, they must prepare future workers to ready themselves with human skills and, yes, they must assist workers in their pivot to remain relevant and in-demand in their profession. But who is “they?”

Dare to be different. Dare to be distinct. Dare to develop your competitive differentiators with intention.

Academic institutions struggle to fit new skill development modules within their already loaded curriculum that’s tough enough to squeeze into a four-year BA.

Employers struggle to scale competency-based learning to all employees, often directing a larger portion of their budget to leadership.

Professional associations see the need for human skill development within their industries but commonly report that when they offer such programming, members select technical skill education and “seat time” credit over developing these competencies.

So while these three power centers of workforce development have a responsibility to challenge themselves to persist in human skill development and find ways to partner with each other toward greater outcomes, there is a fourth partner. Learners must also choose to engage.

They is “we.” Each individual learner included.

Developing Your Competitive Differentiators

No need to feel gloomy about changes on the horizon – this is an opportunity to re-cast the meaningful role you play in your organization by investing in your own competency development. Your professional development is much more than credit hours and requirements. It should be your personalized roadmap to developing your competitive differentiators.

Where to begin?

  • Mind your gaps. Self-assess areas of strength and weakness to identify your learning priorities.

  • Decide where to focus your attention. Consider choosing one professional development goal each quarter to generate momentum.

  • Select formal and informal learning opportunities around your quarterly development goals. A course paired with readings, mentoring conversations, videos, and intentional application practice allow you to embrace a variety of shorter and longer time commitments.

  • Find your community of learners. One way is to maximize your professional association membership. Many of these formal and informal learning opportunities exist; they just need to be accessed. Not to mention networking with others around useful content and similar learning outcomes is an adult learning imperative – it makes the experience more meaningful, drives learning deeper, and results in quicker gains.

Our professions are rapidly evolving and require us to tend to what’s required to develop ourselves as professionals. Dare to be different. Dare to be distinct. Dare to develop your competitive differentiators with intention.

What next step can you commit to today to stand ready for change?

Get Started

The best way to educate yourself about competency-based learning while improving your soft skills is to try it. The CPA Center of Excellence® offers online interactive courses in these six key skill areas.


Find out more about the need for soft skills

  • LinkedIn recently identified “soft skills training” as the top priority for talent development according to their 2018 Workplace Learning Report.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce notes that while soft skills are widely held as vital, that type of training is not a priority and is resulting in graduates who are unprepared to succeed in their professions. In their Bridging the Soft Skills Gap Report, the Foundation urges academic institutions and businesses to collaborate on creating a reliable talent pipeline.

  • The Wall Street Journal conducted a poll of nearly 900 executives who overwhelmingly confirmed soft skills are equally or more important than technical skills, yet they are difficult to find in employees and new hire prospects.

  • Chief Learning Officer magazine asserts “soft skills drive business.” In a profile on Deloitte, Leslie Knowlton, who heads Deloitte learning and development, stated: “Whatever your role, success comes back to your ability to collaborate and build relationships.”

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Tracy King, MA, CAE
About the Author

Tracy King, MA, CAE, is a member of the CPA Center of Excellence® Advisory Board. This board is comprised of experts who are guiding strategy on the future of learning, competency-based education and emerging technologies. King is Chief Learning Strategist & CEO of InspirEd. Contact her at