This week's round-up of the essential articles on the world of work includes a reminder of the importance of soft skills, research on the power of apprenticeships and survey results showing that today's teenagers aspire to the same jobs as their peers from 20 years ago.

#1. HR will remain at the sharp end of workplace changes


At some point it’s too late to wish people happy new year but the end of January is probably ok. Likewise, trends pieces for the year ahead must probably stop after January. Squeezing in just before the deadline, therefore, is this piece from Human Resources Online, which looks at the HR trends for 2020 and beyond. Issues such as the rise of people analytics and the need for digital ethics show that HR will remain at the sharp end of workplace changes, reinforcing a point we made earlier this month.


💡 Even, or rather especially, in the age of AI, the power of ‘human’ in professions like Human Resources grows in importance.


Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

#2. Work has changed but teenagers’ job aspirations haven’t


A report released at this week’s World Economic Forum summit in Davos warned that although the world of work has changed a lot in 20 years, the jobs to which teenagers aspire have not. An OECD study asked 15-year-olds what jobs they want to do when they grow up and the answers in the 2018 survey were almost identical to those from 2000. Doctors, teachers, lawyers and business managers featured heavily in both surveys, for girls and boys, suggesting that children are not really learning about emerging career options or about the risk of automation for many traditional occupations. As we’ve noted in the past, the new workplace requires constant learning and training – and these children are just at the beginning of an unpredictable career journey.


💡 Governments and schools should strengthen career guidance and exposure to new occupations by, for instance, supporting work-based learning programmes.


Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

#3. Apprenticeships can be a weapon for social mobility


Talking of training for young people, the Sutton Trust in the UK says that high-quality apprenticeships are vital to improving social mobility. Employers have a vital role to play here but it’s a win-win situation because apprenticeships are good for businesses, as well as for young people and society. As the Adecco Group’s CEO Alain Dehaze said in an interview last year: “There have been studies in Switzerland, on the black zero ROI, which means that if a company invests 100K CHF into the salary and employment-related expenses of an apprentice [over four years], the return will be at least […] 100K CHF because the apprentice will be delivering good work for four years, and will be immediately employable, with highly relevant skills, upon completion.”


💡 Work-based learning systems work! Invest time and money in employees at the start of their career and they will pay you back.


Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

#4. No company can afford to fall behind on leadership


In our top five two weeks ago, we emphasized the importance of ‘upskilling the upskillers’ – that is, making sure those who lead your digital transformation have the skills necessary to do so. A new survey, by Cognizant and MIT Sloan Management Review, warns that many do not. Researchers said that just 10% of those surveyed strongly agreed that they have the right leadership in their organizations to thrive in the digital economy and just 40% believe they are taking the necessary steps to build a robust leadership pipeline. Leadership skills are in large part soft skills and, as we’ve written before, these are easily overlooked but really should not.


💡 To compete globally, you must have the right skills-set. No company can afford to fall behind on leadership.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

#5. Soft skills are vital – and workers need help to develop them


Still on the subject of soft skills, emotional intelligence is greatly needed in the workplace, but it isn’t taken seriously enough by educators, according to two Yale academics. Marc Brackett and Diana Divecha argue that “social-emotional learning” (SEL) could be greatly improved in schools and doing so would prevent many mental health issues later. They say every $1 invested in SEL has a return of $11. Companies have a role to play here too. More and more businesses are realizing that they can boost employee wellbeing and that doing so will bring wider benefits.


💡 Soft skills are not always easy to learn but they are becoming increasingly important in the workplace.


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