Soft Skills and the Future of Work: Key Insights from the Futureworx Soft Skills Framework Project

What does the future of work in Canada look like? And where do soft skills fit in the mix?

Recently, SkillsCamp participated in a nation-wide study called “Building a Pan-Canadian Soft Skills Framework” by Futureworx. The project’s mission was to explore the need for, and how to best create, a pan-Canadian soft skills framework that would help Canadians meet the rapidly changing needs of the modern workforce.

The project involved conducting a literature review of current work on soft skills in Canada, surveying industry stakeholders, and assembling a group of these stakeholders to engage in discussions around the subject at a national symposium in Toronto.

Here are some of the key results, as well as the ways we’re helping to make an impact now and in the years to come.

1. Learning to learn, flexibility and adaptability were highlighted as the most important soft skills for today’s workers.

Work is changing – fast. In the past few years alone, we’ve seen an increase in automation in the workplace, precarious work placements, and the demand for skilled workers. As a result, employers are looking for employees that don’t just have the technical skills, but also have the ability to evolve with their jobs and workplace.

According to the report, critical soft skills like learning to learn, flexibility and adaptability help “create a foundation for learning all other skills”. They’re also required for career advancement and for securing future positions. Without them, a worker’s immediate and long-term employability will take a serious hit. At SkillsCamp, we are working with students and employees every day to build these skills and set them up for long-term success.  

2. Certain demographics are particularly vulnerable to the shifts in the job market.

As the number of technical jobs and automation in the workplace increases, routine tasks in many jobs will be eliminated. Low skilled and general labour jobs will also become increasingly scarce. This means that the people who often occupy these jobs (e.g. older workers, workers with disabilities, Indigenous workers, low skilled workers) are the most at risk if they’re not able to learn the skills they need to succeed and be resilient in the workplace.

However, it’s important to note that soft skill deficits exist in all workplaces, at all levels. For instance, a Conference Board of Canada report found that recent post-secondary graduates entering the workforce also have significant skill weaknesses, particularly in the areas of critical thinking, problem-solving, oral communication, literacy, and working with others.

At SkillsCamp, we’ve worked with clients in a wide range of industries, and we’ve seen firsthand how these skills gaps don’t discriminate. More and more, employers and industry leaders are identifying soft skills as critical skills for employees in all positions. How they use the skills in their roles may differ slightly, but these are more universal skills than their hard-skill counterparts.

3. There are considerable barriers to soft skills development

Employers frequently acknowledge that soft skills are just as important, if not more important than hard or technical skills. The catch? They prefer to hire workers who already possess these skills.

This leaves recent graduates at a significant disadvantage. Unless they’re able to participate in co-op programs, apprentices or internships during school, many students graduate without work experience and interpersonal skills necessary for the current job market. Students who can’t afford to work unpaid or underpaid internships or live in rural communities with limited work options are placed even further behind.

It’s also harder than ever for workers to acquire these skills on the job. Job positions are now more likely to take the form of contract, temporary, and part-time work. In fact, most young workers spend a maximum of two years of in a position before moving on to something new. Employers don’t want to invest in training employees who will just take those skills elsewhere, and so Canada’s young workers are left in the lurch.

So how can these workers develop and strengthen their soft skills? Well, that’s pretty much where we come in. We’re teaching this “missing curriculum” in schools, organizations, and corporations across the country to help their staff and students develop these core competencies and close the skills gap.

4. There is no universally, or even Canadian, agreed upon definition of soft skills.

Currently, there isn’t even a consensus as to which skills qualify as ‘soft’ and this lack of consistency is holding the industry back.

We know that soft skills are important and we know that they can be developed and assessed. However, as soft skills educators, we’re often limited to “one and done” engagements. We, at SkillsCamp, would prefer to work with clients on a regular basis or even see our programming embedded into academic curricula so we can produce deeper insights and assessment of the impact of our work.

Unfortunately, the lack of clarity surrounding soft skills has led to a catch-22 situation: much-needed research that could support the growth of the industry is being delayed by a shortage of assessment tools, and assessment method development is delayed due to a lack of research.

We need to build better, research-backed tools to deliver and assess soft skills training. We also need to develop a more concrete definition of soft skills. This, in essence, is what the pan-Canadian soft skills framework would do.

Furthermore, the term ‘soft’ can often make these skills seem easier or less critical than ‘hard’ skills. In addition to developing a national framework and database for soft skills, the project also proposes rebranding hard skills as “functional skills”, soft skills as “behavioural skills”, and those that fall into both categories as “social skills”. The latter two categories are where we’re helping and where we hope to continue making a positive difference in the lives of students and professionals across Canada.

Now more than ever, it’s clear that skills like emotional intelligence, resilience, and problem-solving are not just “nice to haves” but pre-requisites for success in today’s workforce.


Image Source: FutureWorxAlternate Image