“There is nothing soft about soft skills,” as this LinkedIn article reads. Certainly, soft skills have come a long way since they were first coined by the soft skills.

Once dismissed as the “softer” cousin to hard skills, today soft skills are vital to supporting an organization’s digital transformation. Consequently, many learning and development (L&D) professionals in 2022 have rebranded the term to power skills — powerful people skills that give us the ability to effectively work, manage and lead others even through change.

This recognition is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough. Learning leaders must understand the nuances of power skills and how they can provide employees with long-term support throughout their careers, at every stage of the employee lifecycle.

Preboarding: Using Microlearning to Prepare New Employees

Preboarding is the period between when an employee accepts a job offer and their first day. Historically, it’s a neglected stage of the employee lifecycle, with employers often waiting until onboarding to support new hires. However, today, the job market has changed, and employees rarely have tunnel vision for one employer. A lack of support during preboarding could negatively impact an employee’s work ethic and relationships, leading them to look for work elsewhere.

The deployment of an L&D strategy at this stage can ensure the employer-employee relationship gets off to a good start. However, it’s important to strike a balance between providing support and not asking soon-to-be employees to do too much.

So, the learning content should focus on what learners need prior to starting their role — like a microlearning module on dealing with first day nerves or content on the company’s management style. These resources should sit alongside practical help, such as organizational charts, frequently asked questions (FAQs), workflows and compliance learning. By familiarizing learners with power skills, an organization can begin to shape its learning experience. Learners can be introduced to the underlying skills before tangibly connecting them to their environment or role when they are formally onboarded. Preboarding is also an opportunity to prepare learners with key learning methodologies (i.e., a focus on “the how,” and not just “the what,” of learning). By doing this, an organization can show its support and prepare new hires for a culture of learning.

Onboarding: Facilitating a Culture of Learning

In some cases, onboarding can be limited to the bare necessities, focusing on basic product knowledge. However, an effective onboarding experience should include training in power skills like collaboration, active listening and communication to ensure strong and dynamic relationships on their team and across departments.

It’s also important to avoid information overload — a common mistake during onboarding. Instead, introduce some of the learning during preboarding. You can do this with a bite-sized video about team collaboration or training resources. This way, you can save room during onboarding to immerse new employees into the organization’s culture.

Coaching and mentorship is also a great way to immerse new hires into the company and teach important power skills. Remember that when it comes to power skills, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Use diagnostic quizzes to understand a new employee’s strengths and weaknesses and a mixture of eLearning content and in-person coaching to construct personal development plans (PDPs) — these can help with the next stage of the employee lifecycle.

Development: Upskilling Employees in Power Skills

Today, the development stage of the employee lifecycle is more vital than ever. First, employees expect their employer to provide training opportunities to develop power skills in leadership, management and much more. And employers who are unable to provide these opportunities are increasingly facing talent retention issues as a result.

Second, development has become essential due to the rapid pace of change. The digital transformation, ongoing changes in work models and a range of foreign and domestic issues have coalesced, meaning that by 2025, 50% of all employees will need some form of upskilling.

However, learning leaders shouldn’t limit upskilling to hard skills. Yes, employees will have to respond to these changes with new technical skills. However, of greater importance is the development of power skills — the skills of the future. Resilience, problem solving and critical thinking are becoming essential in driving digital change, while creativity and emotional intelligence highlight the unique value people bring in the face of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

Regarding power skill development, an organization should look to use its full L&D service offering. It should also look to balance the wider business needs, with the personal development goals of the employee. Ultimately, a long-term commitment to power skills is required – doing so increases the chances of a long-term commitment on the part of the employee to the organization.

Retention: L&D is a Driver for Employee Retention

As previously suggested, development opportunities have become a hygiene issue for many staff. In a recent survey of millennials (who will make up 75% of the workforce in 2025), 65% said they accepted a job based on development opportunities. The flipside of this? A lack of development opportunities will make workers look elsewhere.

L&D is consequently at the forefront of talent retention — this is one of the main reasons demand for L&D professionals has doubled in the past year. Clearly, organizations can’t force employees to stay when they don’t want to, and by the time they are having this conversation the battle is already lost. Employees in this position are dissatisfied, their skills have been neglected and they see no long-term future at the company.

Ultimately, L&D’s role in retaining talent must be viewed for the long term. It must be centered around the employee lifecycle and empathizing with an employee’s skill needs at each stage. Without being overbearing, L&D must consider the nervousness of the new hire, the need to develop collaborative skills during onboarding and the need of power skills to master their development. In turn, this long-term strategy can be mirrored in the long-term benefits it brings to the organization — through more committed individuals, more-talented, cohesive teams and a greater sense of togetherness and community.