Today, I would like to talk to you about a topic which is fundamental for everyday life: soft skills. I will focus on two main questions which will be the guiding principle of this paper: what are they? How can they be developed and strengthened? First of all, I would like to say that soft skills are also called transversal competencies, a concept promoted by the ISFOL model (Institute for the Development of Vocational Training of Workers): “that set of individual characteristics linked to a job and situational performance of a relational, organizational and cognitive nature” (Boyatzis, 1982).

Let us now start from the definition of the English Collins dictionary: “desirable qualities for some forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge, which include common sense, the ability to deal with people and a flexible and positive attitude”. If we tried to explain this definition in other words, we could say that soft skills are personal abilities that, despite the presence of a genetic predisposition, are acquired and optimized with experience. The main soft skills are effective communication, emotional intelligence, teamwork, stress management, creativity, self-efficacy, decision making, effective relationships, and problem-solving.

These characteristics are fundamental in the professional field, as they can influence the way we approach the world of work; however, one aspect to highlight is that soft skills are not specific to one work context, but are adaptable to all those in our lives. This is why the concept of “transversal” competence has been promoted, denoting greater contextual flexibility.

So, at this point, the question many are asking is: what are the ways to develop these competencies? First of all, the experience itself allows us to become aware of our abilities and at the same time of our limits. Without this process, it becomes very difficult to work on ourselves. In response to the question, I would like to focus on a new way of optimizing soft skills. The rapid technological development has led to increasing demand for innovation and adaptability, especially in the professional field. Today many companies have started to see virtual reality as a means of adding value in different fields. Transversal skills are always in demand in different working activities and play a fundamental role in professional success, whatever the context. On the one hand, companies have always relied on online courses and psychology professionals to create tutoring paths for employees. Thanks to digital technologies, a new way has opened up: virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence make it possible to create virtual environments within which people train in different situations. The advantages of adopting these innovative methodologies are greater cost-effectiveness, time and risk reduction, and flexibility. In other words, new ways of doing training: scenarios can be created to suit any type of context in which the worker operates, with the possibility of interacting with the technology through verbal and gestural feedback. The innovative aspect is that people can be trained anywhere in the world, without having to travel, in a safe environment, and without the trainer having to be present at every single session. Today many realities have already planned to use virtual reality: DHL has set up a VR platform to train employees on loading and unloading, to optimize space, time, and costs. The large hotel chain Hilton uses virtual reality for its employees as training to enhance empathy, a key communication skill when working with other people. These are just a few examples, but all kinds of training can be created with virtual reality. Simulations can be created for the management of complex situations, in which even a small error can lead to very negative consequences (surgical operations, fires, interrogations, earthquakes). Training can also be provided to optimize staff selection, recruitment and dismissal. 

Walmart, a retail shop chain, has pioneered the use of VR in the workplace by providing Oculus Go visors in all shops in the US. In this way, the same level of training was provided to both employees and their managers and supervisors with the ultimate goal of optimizing some of the soft skills such as empathy, customer service management, and merchandise compliance. After this overview of examples, I would like to highlight a very important aspect: this technology has a high potential, but not enough to replace the work of training experts and psychologists. It is worth remembering that for a virtual simulation to be effective, structured work capable of integrating technical and content aspects is needed. To intervene on this last aspect the work of the psychologist is not to be underestimated as much as that of the technical experts.

Vrainers aims at this idea of comparison and integration between professionals from different fields, to design and create products characterized by dynamism, flexibility and which can be as complete as possible. For example, the team is working on very practical training, which accompanies the person to work on himself and then train his communication skills, with the ultimate aim of optimizing “the art of public speaking”. This kind, of course, was created and implemented by experts in mind and technology.

Having said that, still today the use of virtual reality is hampered by the cost of visors and experience development and a reluctance on the part of the older generation. On the other hand, it has to be said that many companies are focusing on Millennials, and consequently it will be necessary to adapt to their preferred behavior, thinking styles, and training methods, which are increasingly oriented towards new technologies. A turning point in the world of work will be marked when people overcome the idea of virtual reality as an entertainment tool and begin to understand that it can be a means of bringing success and value to companies, associations, and organizations.

In this short article, we have focused on the professional sphere, but the discourse discussed above could also be extended to other contexts of our lives (sport, family); as the word itself says, transversal skills are independent of role and context, and therefore fundamental to the existence of each of us. As you know, I like to end this article with a quote; this is a very short, but in my opinion very profound statement: “Knowing how to listen to means possessing, in addition to one’s own, the brains of others (Leonardo Da Vinci).”

Bibliography and Sitography

Pinz ́on-Cristancho, B., Calder ́on-Torres, H. A., Mej ́ıa-Moncayo, C., Rojas, A. E.: An Educational Strategy Based on Virtual Reality and QFD to Develop Soft Skills 204.

Hickman, L., and Akdere, M. (2017). “Exploring virtual reality for developing soft-skills in STEM education,” in Paper Presented at the 2017 7th World Engineering Education Forum (WEEF), Kuala Lumpur, 461–465. doi: 10.1109/WEEF.2017.8467037

www.digitalmosaik.com

Bates, J. (1992). Virtual reality, art, and entertainment. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 1(1):133{138.

Gorski F., Zawadzki P, Bun P, Starzynska B, Virtual reality training of hard and soft skills in production, June 2018, Article No.: 33, Pages 1-2, https://doi.org/10.1145/3208806.3219787

www.nfon.com

Author:

Francesco Palazzo

Degree in psychological sciences and techniques from the University of L’Aquila. Master’s degree in Psychology of Well-being: empowerment, rehabilitation, and positive technologies, at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. Specialized in the use of Positive Technologies applied to different psychological fields, conducting an experimental study on cognitive enhancement and technical-motor gestures on young competitive tennis players through an integrated training of mental training and virtual reality.

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