Blog post

Soft skills take center stage at CIPD's Festival of Work

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4 minutes

Reskilling for AI, cultural alignment, and soft skills were 3 topics that were ever-present at this year's Festival of Work. Spotted Zebra shares the main talking points from the show.

The 2024 CIPD's Festival of Work landed at the ExCeL Centre in London this week - a new venue for the annual jamboree, and a new set of work dilemmas to discuss. 

This year's agenda boasted over 150 international inspirational thought leaders and experts across 7 stages.

With topics ranging from reskilling for AI to the rising importance of soft skills, the skills agenda has never seemed more on point. 

In particular, Spotted Zebra’s proprietary Right For framework is uniquely positioned to solve 3 of the event's most significant discussion points: values/cultural alignment, identifying soft skills, and upskilling/reskilling. 

Let's take a closer look at what the experts had to say.

Culture and values

A clear and powerful company culture and values have never been more critical. With the latest CIPD data showing that the average churn for UK workers is 36%, strong values enable organizations to foster a passionate, loyal workforce. They also provide businesses with an advantage in the job market. 

"Corporate values are so important," emphasized Alyssa Jaffer, Senior Manager at Global Rider Communications and Co-Chair of the L&D Committee at Deliveroo. "So many companies do the bare minimum, so there's a lot of opportunity to embed culture in corporate values."

A strong focus on values has other benefits. In a session about workplace transformation, Toby Hough, Senior Director of People and Culture, EMEA, at HiBob, noted that values provide a critical anchor for employees during times of change. 

However, alignment between employee values and organizational values is crucial.

  • Recruiting employees who are poorly aligned with company culture can cost businesses up to 60% of the individual's annual salary due to turnover (Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)).
  • Conversely, good cultural alignment between the company and the employee can deliver benefits, including greater job satisfaction (American Psychological Association). 
  • Good alignment can also increase loyalty and job performance (Procedia).

Communication of values is critical to ensuring this alignment, particularly during the hiring process. "For hiring managers, it's crucial that those values are there and are underlined," said Jaffer.

However, actively hiring against those values delivers the best results. 

In a session on corporate social responsibility, Emilie Stephenson, Head of Force for Good UK at Innocent Drinks, noted that because Innocent hires for values fit, all employees have a similar attitude and passion for CSR, making the actions that much easier to execute and see results from. 

In the same roundtable, Prerana Issar, Chief People Officer and Head of Corporate Affairs at Sainsbury's, also discussed how values alignment was a part of the supermarket brand's recruitment policy. "Do they match our values the moment they walk through the door?" 

How Spotted Zebra can help

Drawing on decades of experience building assessment solutions for the world's largest employers, our Right For model allows enterprises to understand candidates' alignment with their specific needs - including cultural fit. 

We collect skills data from multiple sources to build a validated skills profile for each role. The advisory team also works with each enterprise to ensure their unique culture and values are reflected within the profile, mapping personality traits to behaviors. Our work provides a set of values against which individuals can be scored to understand their alignment with the organization's culture and values. 

The model has had a transformative impact on candidate selection for our partners. In a recent recruitment program with a major entertainment company, 70% of hired candidates had a Right For score of 0.85 or above, compared with 19% of the rest of the pool - a massive endorsement of our ability to predict interview and role performance. 

"Our Right For model empowers recruitment teams to ensure that there is cultural alignment, as well as skills alignment, for the best possible hiring outcomes." Nick Shaw, CCO, Spotted Zebra.

The increasing importance of soft skills

The importance of soft skills was a recurring theme at the Festival of Work. In a morning roundtable discussing the mental health emergency in the workplace, for instance, panelists emphasised the importance of empathy and communication. 

Similarly, soft skills came to the fore in a discussion about fostering psychological safety, featuring Claire Chappell, CIPD's Head of People Experience, and author Jonny Gifford. The presenters agreed that transparent and honest communication is fundamental to establishing a psychologically safe environment and culture. Leaders, in particular, must be empathetic and respectful to engender trust, said Gifford. 

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive of Channel 4, echoed this in her session on fostering an honest and open culture in the modern workplace. Highlighting the important soft skills that leaders must possess, she suggested that curiosity was vital.

"Curiosity leads to compassion for others, it leads to listening to others, and problem-solving."

Crucially, Gifford also encouraged organizations to support leaders and line managers in developing these skills, despite the misheld belief that soft skills cannot be taught. 

"People skills can be developed," he said. "Some are more naturally gifted, but everyone can learn. People management skills is something that can be taught. Leadership development needs to be for the many, not the few."

TV presenter Stacey Dooley also demonstrated the importance of soft skills in her keynote. Tracing her unconventional career pathway, she emphasized how soft skills - her curious, communicative nature - opened doors for her.

Reinforcing the idea that soft skills are foundational, Dooly suggested that her soft skills enabled her to develop the hard skills of documentary-making, which the Head of BBC then spotted.

How Spotted Zebra can help

The Spotted Zebra Right For model enables enterprises to identify not only the hard skills required for success in a role but also the soft skills. We then build an assessment to measure how well candidates' soft skills align with these requirements. 

The framework and associated assessment content include:

  • 34 soft skills, with relevant definitions and traits for use at 6 organizational levels.
  • 100+ traits that are mapped to the soft skills, and that are selected and weighted according to role requirements.  
  • These traits are mapped to over 3,000 psychometric items to create a personalized assessment for each candidate.
  • 500+ interview questions mapped to each trait at each organizational level.

We ensure suitability by enabling HR leaders to understand the specific soft skill requirements of a role and assess candidates for alignment with those skills. 

  • High performers on our assessments reach competence 20% faster than the average. 
  • High performers on our assessment are 2x more likely to be rated as top performers in their role. 
  • Year 1 attrition is cut by 75%.

Upskilling and reskilling for AI

It's no surprise that AI would also be a big topic of discussion at this year's event. 

A lunchtime roundtable was dedicated to how AI is transforming work and what can be done to support people and enhance work. AI's impact on jobs and skills will be significant - but not necessarily in the ways expected. 

As DN Prasad, Senior Director for People and Organisation at GovTech noted: "We need to educate people that AI won't take your job - but someone trained in AI will. We need to shift from fear to empowerment."

Upskilling and reskilling, therefore, represent a vital response to AI for businesses and employees. 

In another session, Sarah Hamilton of Globus HR Consulting warned that there were challenges, however: 

  • The pace of change is "relentless".
  • Not all employees want to be upskilled or reskilled.
  • How do we know what AI skills will be needed in each role?

Andy Headworth, Talent Acquisition Director at HMRC, outlined his approach to the AI skills challenge for his team: " Empower people to play." 

By encouraging this mindset and removing limitations on the tools (within agreed guidelines), the HMRC has reduced the time it takes to complete tasks, and are now looking at the hiring managers’ process from end to end. 

Nonetheless, panelists agreed that some policies and controls need to be in place, with Headworth suggesting that if you adapt your social media policy for AI, you will be along the right lines. 

How Spotted Zebra can help

Using our proprietary Right For Model, Spotted Zebra enables enterprises to identify the precise technical skills required for success in a role and their proficiency level. This is an industry-leading level of granularity, enabling HR leaders to understand the skills and proficiency level required to meet their AI role needs. 

At the same time, there is a shortage of available talent for some high-growth roles (such as in AI). Therefore, organizations need to reskill existing employees into these positions. As the technical skills will be taught, Spotted Zebra enables HR and People teams to identify suitable reskilling candidates through the Right For the Future framework:

  • They have stronger motivation for reskilling.
  • They have higher levels of adaptability and agility.
  • They have a stronger behavioral fit (i.e. they align with the behavioral skills required for success in the role).

Partners of Spotted Zebra have reported significant improvements with their reskilling programs: 

  • By identifying those who are a better behavioral fit, reskilling success rates have improved. 
  • Dropouts from training programs have dramatically dropped, resulting in a significant saving on training and development costs.
  • By simplifying the reskilling process fairly and consistently, manager time has been saved, reducing the cost-per-person by 70%.

Final thoughts

While the world of work is currently beset by a multitude of challenges, The Festival of Work demonstrated that progress is being made. 

A greater understanding of soft skills enables greater leadership and better mental health management. Increased upskilling and reskilling are helping businesses harness AI. Greater alignment between organizational and individual values is driving up employee engagement. 

Ultimately, we are pleased to report that this year's Festival of Work offered plenty to celebrate -the future of work looks right for us.

If you would like to learn more about the Right For model and see it in action, book your demo here, or enquire for one of our free soft skills lunch and learn workshops here.