Workplace

Why the ‘new’ Skills for Success matter

The world of work is changing fast. The demand for skilled employees is not new, but the skills considered “in demand” have changed dramatically over the past few years. Labour markets around the world were already going through significant transformations when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but the pandemic has accelerated them.

According to McKinsey & Company’s 2021 report The Future of Work After COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce and automation, with up to 25% more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations. And it is estimated that from now until 2030, there will be little job growth in low-wage / low-skilled occupations, with the largest negative impact of the pandemic to fall on workers in food service and customer sales and service roles, as well as less-skilled office support roles.

During the pandemic, organizations and workers needed to be adaptable, resilient and innovative to come up with creative ways to pivot how they work. Communicating effectively, managing crisis-driven stress and anxiety and being emotionally intelligent allowed them to function effectively in a rapidly shifting landscape. More and more we are seeing employers making a shift in their valuation of these types of soft skills or social and emotional skills (SES).

According to a recent Leadership IQ study, almost half of new hires (48%) fail within 18 months on the job. The vast majority of those failures (89%) are due to a lack of SES, including 22% resulting from employees’ inability to understand and manage emotions. It is becoming increasingly apparent that success in the workplace will require a mix of both technical and SES, for now and in the foreseeable future.

The ‘new’ Skills for Success

For the past 20 years, the Government of Canada has used a traditional skills framework called the Essential Skills, which outlined the skills people need to be successful in work, learning and life. The model included reading, writing, document-use, numeracy, oral communication, working with others, thinking, digital technology and continuous learning. The premise was that these skills are used in every job and they provide the foundation for learning all other skills, thereby enabling people to grow with their jobs and adapt to workplace change.

Douglas College is the Mobile App Partner for CERIC’s Cannexus23 conference, taking place virtually and in-person, Jan. 23-25, 2023. Learn more and register at cannexus.ceric.ca.

In 2019, the Government of Canada’s (then) Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) and Employment and Social Development Canada began the renewal process of the Essential Skills Framework. With overwhelming feedback from employers, industry, training organizations and other stakeholders, it became apparent that the old Essential Skills model needed to have a greater emphasis on SES.

The new Skills for Success framework retains the core foundational literacy skills of reading, writing and numeracy, but now also includes an expansion of the communication and digital skills categories along with the inclusion of SES-focused skills such as creativity and innovation, problem-solving, collaboration and adaptability. This framework now better describes the skills required for success in today’s workplaces.

Why this matters to career development professionals

If career development is the process by which individuals assess their skills and career path in order to grow and advance their personal career journey, then the COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm. In the past two years, many workers have been displaced by the pandemic, while a majority of other employees have had a chance to rethink why they work and what they most want to do with their careers and lives. Now, more than ever, people need guidance and skills training to help them ‘reset’ and move forward with purpose.

Workers and jobseekers need to understand what it is they want to do and determine if they have the skills, abilities and experience to do it. And, if skills development is required to work toward that career goal, do they have the motivation, self-efficacy and foundational skills required to make it happen?

For employed people, on-demand learning and rapid upskilling have become the workplace norm. This type of training is generally ineffective if workers are without the foundational skills required to understand information and put their skills training into practice. All too often, employees have grown into their roles over the years and have become highly specialized in their main responsibilities while lacking the foundational or transferrable skills to go to the ‘next level’ or make a career change.

For the unemployed, we must also consider some of the standard training and exercises we put them through to assist them in their career decision making and securing jobs. How effective can an interviewing skills or networking workshop be, if participants lack foundational communication and adaptability skills? How effective is a resume building or social media profile workshop, if participants lack core digital and writing skills?

“All too often, employees have grown into their roles over the years and have become highly specialized in their main responsibilities while lacking the foundational or transferrable skills to go to the ‘next level’ or make a career change.”

For new, highly educated graduates, there are even more considerations. A 2018 Morneau Shepell survey of 95 large Canadian private sector employers found that, while new graduates appear to have the right foundational skills, “employers are less impressed with the human skills and basic business acumen of new graduates.” One of the first major attempts to measure employment-related skills in university and college students on a large scale shows that students are experiencing some gains in literacy, numeracy and critical-thinking scores over the course of their undergraduate studies. Yet one in four graduating students scored below adequate in measures of literacy or numeracy, and less than a third scored at superior levels, according to findings by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

Careers are dynamic and non-disciplinary skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s economic climate; many graduates will end up not working in their field of study and can expect to hold several jobs throughout their careers. Even employees who stay with one employer over many years will most likely find their job rapidly evolving over time. For this reason, a comprehensive model of skills training that encompasses both hard skills and SES is paramount to career success.

Funding for skills for success training initiatives

The good news is that the Government of Canada has committed $298 million from 2021-24 to support Skills for Success. This funding is part of its commitment to create 500,000 new training and work opportunities for Canadians and will give them the tools they need to be successful in this new world of work.

There are several key initiatives that have already launched including the AMPLIFY Skills Training project delivered by Douglas College. This demonstration research project is a partnership between OLES, Blueprint, Douglas College and WorkBC to deliver skills training to unemployed or underemployed British Columbians. Using the Skills for Success framework, this free training program is delivered online over a six-week period and is customized to each individual learner based on the specific skills they need to build. Early results are extremely positive with measurable hard and SES skill gains, along with significant increases in participants’ confidence and self-efficacy.

By utilizing a more holistic training model like the Skills for Success, we can help people access the skills, tools and opportunities they need to maximize their labour market potential and provide employers with the skilled workers they need to succeed.

John Harrison Author
John Harrison, MBA, is a Community and Contract Services Programmer with the Training Group at Douglas College. The Training Group offers government-funded training, employment, and English language (LINC) programs, as well as programs and services for employers. To learn more about available programs, visit Training Group.
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John Harrison Author
John Harrison, MBA, is a Community and Contract Services Programmer with the Training Group at Douglas College. The Training Group offers government-funded training, employment, and English language (LINC) programs, as well as programs and services for employers. To learn more about available programs, visit Training Group.
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