Employers’ top training priority for 2018? Soft skills

The 2018 Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn details how employers are feeling the crush of skill gaps across all industries, and how they’re responding by creating learning opportunities to guide staff and their organizations to thrive in tomorrow’s labor market. The top priorities they’ve identified are likely those your company is experiencing as well. LinkedIn has identified six learning priorities for 2018:

  1. How to train for soft skills
  2. Identifying trends to prevent future skill gaps
  3. Understanding the impact of technology
  4. Consistent global training
  5. Deliver insights on internal skill gaps
  6. How to track skill development

The survey tallied results from 1,200 talent developers, 2,200 employees, 400 people managers and 200 executives. Among all groups the top priority for talent development in 2018 was training for soft skills. HR Dive spoke with Tanya Staples, VP, learning content and Kevin Simon, head of product, both of LinkedIn Learning Solutions, to discuss the report and its implications for business and L&D professionals.

Soft skills the top priority

Staples discusses the priority of soft skills for future learning initiatives: “In the age of automation, maintaining technical fluency across roles will be critical, but the pace of change is fueling demand for adaptable, critical thinkers, communicators, and leaders.” When it comes to programming to train for these competencies, LinkedIn recommends, “learning pathways, or groups of courses, that build upon each other so that at time of completion, employees have a well-roundedness about their soft skills abilities and have gained an appreciation for continuous learning.”

With the limited life of hard skills, soft skills are taking priority. The software and apps in use today will likely soon be replaced and the procedures and strategies that are currently cutting edge may soon occupy a dusty shelf. But soft skills remain a constant throughout an employee’s career. And for business, the need to have soft skills will always be present. What are employers looking for and looking to train for?


Leadership skills are in high demand. The ability to manage a task or project independently, without supervision and with self-motivation are hallmarks of a leader. They don’t need external prompting, they prompt themselves and others. They are problem solvers that look for alternative routes that get the job done faster, better, smarter. They inspire others, not only to do their own tasks but to come along on the ride to success. They are the go-to person others rely on for assistance, coaching and motivation. No company can survive without them.

Some believe leaders are born, but research suggests leadership qualities can be learned. Modeling leader behaviors of leaders, building confidence in one’s aptitude and supporting the ability to oversee and motivate others are traits that can be taught. The challenge for most businesses is to find those who are interested and motivated to learn. Not everyone will want the responsibility — but for those who do, the rewards can be significant.


In the era of smartphones, many believe we’ve lost the ability to communicate directly. Are millennials, in particular, so digitally dependent they cannot communicate one on one? Managers point to lack of eye contact and the inability to accept criticism as skills that are lacking. But just as we teach other competencies, communication — written and verbal — can be learned. With targeted training and mentoring, a business can develop or polish the communication skills employees need to work effectively.


Working with others is a must for the majority of employees. For a business, strong, collaborative teams innovate, produce and thrive. Lack of collaboration can put the brakes on even the simplest task, grinding productivity to a halt. The skill set required to collaborate effectively is built on trust: allowing employees to work cohesively without the sense of one-upmanship is only the beginning. Communication and listening skills are required to proffer ideas and opinions clearly as well as to actively hear those of one’s colleagues. Again, once an environment of trust is established, collaboration skills can be taught.

Other areas identified in the study point to learning opportunities for 2018 and beyond that business should focus on.

Identifying trends to prevent skills gaps

Another area prioritized by respondents is the ability to assess today’s skills and business trends against future needs. Essentially, training for jobs that don’t exist today. Staples advises, “In order to stay ahead of a constantly changing pace, we must have a keen eye on trends and a strong influence on business partners to ensure that we provide skill development opportunities that keep businesses growing.” Surveys, managerial observations and employee assessments are only a few ways to identify and take action on skills gaps.

Simon advises, “We’re also investing more in intelligence, with new analytics experience for admins to understand learning activity within their organization, and we’re working on ways to help them identify where skills gaps exist, and what actions they can take to close them.”

Understanding the impact of technology

Simon tells HR Dive it’s important to leverage technology to develop learning strategies. “Armed with technology and analytics, HR professionals are able to serve a wide range of personal learning experiences and iterate when company needs or career paths change.”

At LinkedIn, in addition to long-form content, they began to add short-form content recommendations, personalized to the learner and bite-sized for quick daily learning. Data suggests employees who access this type of just-in-time learning are more likely to retain the information presented if they’re applying it directly to a task being performed.

Consistent global training

As the workforce goes global, so does the need for training — across time zones and even cultural norms. For employers, consistency is key no matter if individuals are remote workers, who are becoming the new normal, or office-bound staffers. The ability to use technology to provide the same training throughout the organization, wherever it reaches, is critical to maintaining performance and corporate culture.

Deliver insights on internal skills gaps

Staples says, “Industry experts and organizational partners call on talent developers to focus on strategic workforce planning — to turn outward to skills trends to inform their decisions on internal strategy.” To do this, she offers, “Talent developers should look to external partners and technology solutions to help them identify these trends and implement programs to proactively address skill gaps.”

How to track skill development

While measuring the impact of training and development programs is not an exact science, Staples says that measuring team metrics and retention rates are a great start. She suggests looking at team metrics before and after training to identify where changes occur. And she recommends watching retention rates at the start of a new program and intermittently throughout the training process. It’s a good practice to check for an increase in retention or decrease in turnover.

For businesses, the need to upskill and right-skill employees has never been more important, but training must be relevant to be impactful.  Simon tells HR Dive, “Our research indicates that learning and career development is at the core of the employee experience and personalization is critical to engaging a multi-generational workforce with varied learning needs.