VR adds a new dimension to the soft skills training landscape

You might be surprised to learn that the World Economic Forum’s ‘Jobs Reset Summit’ report found that traditionally ‘soft’ skills are most important in the workplace.  Critical thinking, problem-solving, self-management, resilience, and stress tolerance are likely to be the most important skills for individuals to flourish in the workplace of the future. Businesses should sit up and take note.

A shortage of these skills in organisations could result in inefficiencies, resignations, and a lot of lost cash.

In parallel with this growing need for strong interpersonal skills, those in the know will tell you that virtual reality (VR) is changing how we learn and retain knowledge. An increasing body of research has been done on the impact of VR and hard skills training. Moreover, with the increase in organisations realising just how essential soft skills are to their organisation, the time is ripe for traditional training methods to make space for the power of VR.

Bailey Parnell, the CEO and founder of SkillsCamp, is no stranger to soft skills training and its impact on individuals and organisations. She is a 2-time TEDx speaker and guru on everything soft skills based. Parnell’s is a voice that needs to be amplified in this space. We learnt about why VR is a tool that can bring a whole new dimension to the soft skills training landscape.

Bailey Parnell speaking at TEDx on the importance of protecting your mental health in the age of social media. She also has vast expertise in entrepreneurship and soft skills.

Why Are Soft Skills So Important?

Bailey Parnell believes that soft skills are often some of the most difficult skills to learn. Some thought leaders in this space find the fact that we use the term “soft skills” to be misleading. Parnell argues that learning how to “manage ourselves and relate to others” is more important than the category we put these skills into. “Transferable skills, human skills, soft skills, whatever you call them, they are incredibly important”.

“Transferable skills, human skills, soft skills, whatever you call them. They are the most important, and difficult to learn, skills in business today”.

Bailey Parnell, CEO & Founder of SkillsCamp

Parnell has learnt in her work that soft skills build on each other. It’s like building something out of Lego. Individually the pieces might not make sense, but when you combine them, they turn into the most resolute and robust structure. For instance, she argues that empathy helps with conflict management. When we’re able to see something from the other person’s point of view, and step into their shoes, we’re naturally more inclined to understand where they are coming from, and manage difficult situations in a more considered and calm manner. This is a crucial skill in high-functioning teams

SPACES VR training teaches trainees about implicit bias in the workplace.

The same could be said for developing creativity, which impacts how we approach problem-solving. Seeing challenges from a different and more creative angle can result in novel solutions. Notwithstanding focusing on being optimistic, we’re more likely to have a better outlook on the world and find joy in the work that we do – this leads to long-term career satisfaction and growth. Don’t you love how all those Lego blocks come together?  

What Makes A Soft Skills Training Intervention Successful?

Parnell described what an individual with strong soft skills looks like. In essence, Soft skills are largely informed by someone’s emotional intelligence. At SkillsCamp, they break down emotional intelligence into four components. “Emotional intelligence can be broken up into self-management, self-awareness, relationship management, and social awareness.” Soft skills training hones these four elements of an individual’s emotional and social impact. This relates to both themselves and others in their organisations.

Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence theory visualised above explains the key components of EQ.

Other soft skills that go hand-in-hand are optimism and stress management. Parnell argues that “if you are working on the skill of optimism, you are simultaneously building your resilience, adaptability, and decreasing levels of chronic stress.” Her SkillsCamp initiatives have also promoted confidence in employees to succeed at their jobs, and has improved levels of empathy within teams.

“If you are working on the skill of optimism, you are simultaneously building your resilience, adaptability, and decreasing levels of chronic stress.”

Bailey Parnell

The biggest issue with traditional training is that it is based largely on the ability to memorise well. In addition, Parnell has found that new hires struggle with “knowing how to learn”. Meanwhile, many entrants into new jobs struggle the most with interviewing well.

In her work at SkillsCamp, Parnell has found that many employees struggling with these skills, and their organisations find it difficult to help their people to learn these skills. She therefore thinks that having a tool like a VR soft skills training application can help professionals hone their interpersonal and empathetic abilities.

She has found that resourcefulness and problem-solving are the two most important skills for the modern workplace. “Every report in the last 10 years says that soft skills learning is becoming more and more important,” she argues, “every country in the world is realising that they need more soft skills”.

VR Is An Increasingly Important Tool In The Soft Skills Tool Box

A well-built and realistic VR application could be a useful tool in the soft skill training tool belt. VR allows for replicability and experimental and immersive learning. Knowledge retention from traditional training methods can be as low as 5-10%. This number spikes to over 75% when trainees ‘learn by doing’. VR is the conduit for this approach.

“Every report in the last 10 years says that soft skills learning is becoming more and more important”

Bailey Parnell
The World Economic Forum’s ‘Jobs Reset Summit’ found that 14 of the 20 most important skills for the future of work will be traditionally seen as “soft” skills. VR is the perfect tool to teach these skills through experiential learning.

VR is the first tool that can actually re-create real-world scenarios. Endless multiple choice questions in a eLearning module simply don’t work very well. Soft skills training needs to be more real.

Whilst the majority of Parnell’s offering is online, she’s hugely excited about the potential for VR to add to the tool kit of soft skills educators. “In my opinion, soft skills should be taught in schools. Memorisation isn’t a functional business model.” She also argues that VR could be a useful tool in facilitating this learning. “VR could definitely help people learn soft skills better. The closer we can get to real experiences, the better we can teach empathy.”

“The closer we can get to real experiences, the better in terms of teaching empathy. VR is unique in that it offers immediate feedback and endless attempts.”

Bailey Parnell

Parnell says that one of her challenges in training people in soft skills is measuring if they have been successful. VR could offer real-time feedback to both learners and educators about their performance in the training simulation. “VR could be fantastic for something like public speaking or for practicing having difficult conversations with co-workers.” Through immediate feedback and endless attempts, VR soft skills training offers a distinct advantage.

How Can VR Best Be Utilised By Corporations For Soft Skills Training?

VR training is closer to the real thing than traditional eLearning. Parnell believes that getting as much human connection in soft skills education as possible is pivotal. If VR simulations can offer a sense of reality and immersion, it has the power to be a game-changer in the world of soft skills training.

VR is hugely scalable and offers unique benefits in terms of cultivating empathy, honing skills, and teaching in an immersive, experiential way. Consequently, VR simulations offer a return on investment for soft skills training in a way that eLearning has never managed.

In contrast, being able to replay a scenario, and monitor your progress in real-time, can help with buy-in from users and soft skills mastery.

VR is a powerful tool for soft skills training, but will require trainers and decision makers to carefully consider where it’ll work best in their businesses. It won’t simply fix all issues related to teaching and nurturing soft skills, but it can go a long way to help. The world of Bailey Parnell and SkillsCamp has proven that there is a professional soft skills deficiency, and that people are waking up to that fact. VR training is a step in the right direction.

Immersive technology has the power to engage and delight your users.