When we are at school, the focus of our education system is on developing knowledge and hard skills. For example, you acquire the skill to read, write and do maths and you gain knowledge about the world in the subjects that you take. But this isn’t enough for today’s world of work. Knowledge is much more accessible than it used to be through the internet, and while hard skills are definitely something that you need, they aren’t necessarily enough for you to get a job or be a successful entrepreneur. You also need what’s known as ‘soft skills’.
So, what are soft skills?
Here are some of the most important ones:
• Critical thinking
This is the ability to analyse information objectively and make a reasonable judgement about that information. For example, you can help your friends resolve an argument by listening to them objectively, not taking sides and settling their dispute by offering suggestions to resolve the issue that is fair to both sides. Another example of people who need critical thinking are the nurses in a hospital emergency clinic who have to make decisions about who needs the most urgent care. Or, when you apply for a job and prepare for the interview, you are able to recognise what your new employer needs, and be able to explain your particular skills and experiences to show them that you are a good ‘fit’. Critical thinking is also thinking deeply about questioning what you are told or what you read – who is telling or writing this information? Why are they telling you this and how do they want you to respond? (This is very useful during election time when political parties are making many promises!) Critical thinking is a skill that is not taught directly at school but is something that all employers want because this means that you can be trusted to make good decisions on your own.
This is the ability to find solutions to difficult or complex problems. If you are able to develop practical and creative solutions to a problem at work, you show that you are independent and can take initiative. The first step in problem-solving is knowing what the problem is in the first place! Sometimes, this is not very obvious. Perhaps you are struggling with the demands of your home life and work life. You’re not sure why you’re feeling so exhausted. Once you recognise that you are stressed, you can work out a creative way to try and reduce it. Or your child doesn’t want to go to school. A problem-solver tries to get to the root of the problem – eg what is happening at school that is disturbing the child – rather than just forcing the child to go without trying to find out the real issues. Interviewers often offer a potential problem in their work place and ask you how you would resolve it. Or they may ask you about a previous problem you had and how you resolved it. Once you’re working, you may need to be able to look at a spreadsheet of data, recognise where the problem areas are in the business (as revealed by the data) and come up with a solutions to resolve the issues. This is definitely a valuable soft skill to think about, and develop.
The ability to be able to communicate well is vital in the work place. You may need to speak to your manager about problems that you are experiencing in the work place and you need to be able to do in a way that doesn’t create conflict. You may need to speak up when you don’t understand something and need extra guidance. There’s a possibility that you may have to write reports about aspects of your work, and this will require the ability to communicate clearly in writing. This ability to communicate well is vital in the work-place. Although you learnt to read and write at school, communication is so much more than just this. It is the ability to convey or share ideas and emotions effectively.
Teams don’t work well without teamwork! This is the ability to work well with others in a group situation. You need to develop social skills because it’s not always easy to get along with other people who see things differently to you. It’s also important in a team not to be trying to impress everyone else and stand out as if you’re the best contributor. The focus is on the job, not on who performs the best. Also, don’t get angry about someone else’s idea, and fixate only on your solution. All the team members need to discuss the ideas that the group has and decide collectively on the idea that they think will work best. Teams that work well together are able to brainstorm ideas and come up with creative ways of doing things. Often these teams can find solutions to problems that work the best. Team members support each other and, if someone falls behind in her work, someone else in the team will help her. Work tends to get done faster which makes the business work more efficiently. Members of a good team often feel a strong sense of belonging and are committed to each other as well as the work they are doing. This is a win-win situation for the work place!
This is the ability to manage your own actions and emotions. You want to eat that last piece of cake but you don’t because you know it’s not good for you! In simple work terms, it’s about arriving at work on time, not taking unnecessary time off work and pacing yourself at work properly. You don’t spend too much time chatting to your friends at work because you know that time equals money in your workplace and no employer wants you to waste your time as this means that the business loses money. It’s also about discipline – for example, are you able to study part-time and so even when you want to relax and go out, you are able to focus on work and assignments. Self-control goes a long way in being seen as a reliable employee who is trusted by their manager and co-workers.
As the working world changes, it’s no longer enough to have the hard skill of being able to work on computers, type fast or pack shelves efficiently (whatever is required by the job). Now you need to work on all these other soft skills too. It is these abilities that will see you succeed in whatever field you chose to follow. They are equally important in you work life, your family life and other activities such as sport.
Tell us: what soft skills have you developed at work/school? How did you develop them?