The World Bank, in conjunction with the United Nations, held a number of different events in various countries around the world on October 17 to mark the International Day for Eradication of Poverty, 2018. These include an inspiring in-country dialogue session and interactive video conference on the theme “Africa’s Youth and the Future of Work.”
Although different speakers pivoted on the value of soft skills in today's workforce during both the in-country and video conference events, the questions of some of the participants at the Accra event show that a number of people are not particularly sure about what constitutes soft skills and how to develop them.
Of course, the panelists, as well as myself, gave further useful interventions on what soft skills are and the need to cultivate them as a student or job seeker. However, after speaking with one accounting student who approached me after the session, I made a mental note to share further thoughts on this subject. In this article, you will learn what soft skills are, why they are becoming increasingly important, and how to essentially develop them.
So, let’s take a deep dive -
What are Soft Skills?
I think that the best way to understand soft skills is by understanding hard skills. It is generally accepted that hard skills are what you learned or studied in school that can be defined and quantified on paper. Specifically, they are competencies like the ability to use software tools, write, do accounting, etc.
On the flip side, soft skills are those abstract, intangible skills that are difficult to quantify and are not usually taught in the classroom. They are skills we use in navigating everyday life and making human connections. Soft skills are often referred to as transferable skills or professional skills.
From data collected in over two years of our methodological research in making sense of the persistent disconnect between education and industry requirements, below are three main sets of skills employers categorize as soft skills:
- People Skills - this includes teamwork, interpersonal skills, communication, leadership, and customer orientation.
- Self Reliance Skills - this includes self-awareness, proactivity, willingness to learn, self-promotion, networking and planning action.
- Life Skills - this includes problem-solving, flexibility, business acumen, critical thinking, and commitment.
The importance of soft skills in today’s competitive, fast-paced, digital work environment cannot be overemphasized. The more intelligent technologies continue to redefine our workplace, the more human cognitive skills are sought after.
In fact, soft skills are becoming today’s hard skills. You can be the world’s best software engineer or accountant but if you don’t know how to work with people; if you cannot communicate your thoughts clearly; if you cannot deconstruct complexities and proffer simple solutions, you will not be of much use to anyone.
Candidates that demonstrate these competencies will always be farther ahead in the workplace. Academic qualifications obviously have their place; they open doors but soft skills are what keeps you on the job.
How do you develop soft skills?
There are many activities that can help you cultivate soft skills. Programs like SFAN’s Readyforwork Career Coaching Program are super important in developing your soft skills. Through personalized educational contents crafted by employers, one-on-one coaching, and team conversations, participants are equipped with practical skills and exposed to real-world projects that empower them to take ownership of their career aspirations and grow in confidence that yields success.
Also, engaging in community service and volunteer programs are crucial ways of improving your soft skills. They help you generate goodwill that comes from teamwork and collaboration. Volunteering is also a great way to sharpen your leadership skills, networking skills, and problem-solving skills.
Furthermore, participating in group discussions, events and social networking can be another way of developing your soft skills. Learn to speak up whenever you have the opportunity and get comfortable standing in front of people. If you are afraid of public speaking, well my friend, you're not alone - 41% of people across cultures around the world are terrified about public speaking. The vital thing to note is that public speaking is not a performance but a conversation from your heart.
One of the most important lessons I've learned in my career is that nothing is a given. Things change fast and knowing how to think on your feet is a skill that'll take you places. I can write about this in two books because of its importance in the workplace today. Train yourself to be a problem solver. The most uninspiring thing you can do is to be the girl or boy that always go to your boss or team leader with problems. Everyone sees problems but not everyone sees solutions. Hence, before you point out a problem, have a solution on hand. It will set you apart from others.
The good news is that all these soft skills are learnable. With careful observation and practice, you can improve on each and every one of them. The most interesting thing about human being is that nobody is born smart - we all start at zero. Believe it or not, there was a time when Einstein couldn’t do his ABCs. Chimamanda Adichie definitely didn’t start her career as a great communicator.
Neither was Barack Obama a remarkable leader as a teenager. They all learned and practiced these crafts until they perfected it. Now that you know the traits you should cultivate for the future of work, you too can do the same! Sign up here to receive more tools for career development and to be in the know about our epic events and training programs.
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