Every job has its relevant skills. This is an awareness that has been with us since the beginning of our training, right from our school days. But among the skills we learn, which ones are really needed in the workplace and which ones should we continue to focus on to become complete professionals at all levels?
This apparently simple question hides different degrees of complexity, starting with the very definition of skills and ending with the awareness that a continuously changing social and economic context, such as the current one, risks making newly learned competences obsolete already. The winning formula, in order to orientate ourselves in this panorama, both as companies and workers, is a paradigm shift. We need to move from the centrality of the “what” to that of the “how”, following three central guidelines: the importance of soft skills, continuous training and, above all, openness to diversity and inclusion. In light of the current health emergency, the climate crisis and the evolution of lifestyles shaped by digital technology and the sharing economy, I believe that it is necessary, at every level of seniority and experience, to abandon the focus on “what” we do, which is probably transitory, and to question ourselves regarding “how” we do it, i.e. on the set of attitudes and skills that underpin the possibility of being versatile. We are talking about the so-called soft skills or transversal competences, which have only been spoken of more widely in recent years, as an alternative set of skills to the hard skills or technical competences, which for a long time were considered the only possible expression of professionalism. Let’s be clear: technical skills – such as knowing a language, a computer programme, being able to drive a particular type of vehicle, knowing and being able to apply certain procedures – remain fundamental but are not enough. More and more professions need to be complemented and accompanied by transversal skills, such as good communication skills, dedication to work, the ability to analyse a situation and solve problems, mediation skills, open-mindedness and team spirit. In short, if hard skills are the basic requirement to get a job, soft skills allow us to keep it and to grow, as professionals and as individuals, at all levels of seniority. This is particularly true for a company like ours, where the majority of the workforce performs tasks based on manual and/or repetitive work. Here, the qualitative difference is made by transversal skills, which are the most human and central lever, especially when it comes to personal services.
According to research by the World Economic Forum, over the next three years the evolution of the world of work, accelerated by technology, digital technology and automation, will lead to the creation of 133 million new job opportunities, while 75 million jobs will disappear. In addition, 65% of children starting primary school today will grow up to inhabit a world with jobs that do not even exist today. How can we prepare for such a scenario if we cannot know what technical skills we will need? The answer, again, is in the “how”: we need to train people to develop transversal skills, which help to make us resilient, and invest in lifelong learning, the second guideline to orient us in the present and future world of work. The ability to invest in upskilling and reskilling programmes will be crucial not only for students, but also for professionals. The arrival of the pandemic has only accelerated this trend, introducing the need for new professions and making others obsolete, underlining how work is not lost, but transformed, as if it were a physics theorem. How, then, can workers and companies be future-proofed? The focus on soft skills and lifelong learning must be complemented by a third aspect, which is the enhancement of talent and people through diversity and inclusion. When it comes to resource management, there should be no cultural legacies or stereotypes that prevent us from valuing the best talent above all else. For this to happen, however, we need a culture of diversity and training in inclusion: we need to cultivate fertile ground between management and within the company, so that openness to D&I can be breathed and experienced first-hand and not learned as one of many notions.
At Sodexo, we have been working for years to create an inclusive culture that reflects our values. We do this through awareness-raising programmes for our managers and through our various talent attraction, selection, management and development strategies that reflect this approach, using tools such as score cards and performance metrics on D&I objectives, not in terms of quotas but of concrete actions in five axes of intervention: gender, culture, generations, disability, sexual orientation.
What are the benefits?
On a personal level, it teaches us to accept and enter into a dialogue with different points of view and to recognise the value of others in their diversity, reminding ourselves that we, too, are “different” in the eyes of others. “If we don’t look beyond what we see, we are not rich enough” was the concept behind one of our internal awareness campaigns entitled “Open your Eyes”. At the level of the team and the company as a whole, the results are tangible and measured by various studies that have shown a clear improvement in performance and returns. Research by McKinsey, for example, shows that significant levels of gender and cultural diversity in companies are usually associated with a 15% increase in profits; an above-average diversity score also leads to a 45% increase in innovation-related revenue. In addition, according to our global study, a smaller gender gap in companies increases productivity and turnover, reduces accidents and absenteeism, and improves workers’ physical and mental health. The more open we are to diversity, the more we will be able to find the skills we need, with positive effects on business. Conversely, the more we look for the skills we need without prejudice, the more diversity we will find. And those companies that put these concepts into practice also gain in terms of employee experience and employer branding, which in turn is fundamental for attracting talent in a truly virtuous circle.
In conclusion, we are experiencing a major paradigm shift that is revolutionising the hierarchy of skills and priorities in managing and valuing people. In a world that is constantly changing, technical skills are not the only parameter against which to assess resources. Much more space should be given to soft skills, continuous professional development and, above all, being open to diversity to allow everyone’s potential to emerge. Only an approach of this kind helps to create wealth, encourages resilience and, indeed, will accompany successful companies into the future.