GLOBAL INSIGHTS ON SOFT SKILLS

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In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding – Daniel Goleman

It was back in the year 1918 (yes, over 100 years ago), that studies on soft skills were first brought to limelight. American Physicist, Charles Riborg Mann, in his groundbreaking work titled “A Study of Engineering Education” (published by the Carnegie Foundation) presented some statistics that implied that soft skills played a more significant role in the job success of Engineers than their technical expertise.

Harvard University, Stanford Research Centre and the Carnegie Foundation later carried out extrapolations from Mann’s work and jointly concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills). Pause for a moment and let that fact sink in; to think that the entire body of specialized knowledge and expertise derived from the years spent in school contribute only a small fraction to one’s career advancement is something to ponder.

It is of value to distinguish between the concepts of soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are essential features of inter-personal relationships, while hard skills relate to technical knowledge and expertise. Hard skills are tangible in professional qualifications, conversely, soft skills are more related to a person’s personal traits rather than academic qualifications or practical expertise. Soft skills embody traits like communication, courtesy, leadership, empathy, professionalism, integrity, teamwork, and work ethics, to mention a few.

Whereas the focus of the most school and vocational education is on hard skills, soft skills are not taught in schools or colleges. This is because, historically, hard skills, were the only skills necessary for career employment. Today’s workplace, however, is revealing that technical skills are not enough to either get or keep individuals employed. Furthermore, the global shift from an industrial economy to an information society and an office economy means that many jobs now place an emphasis on soft skills such as integrity, communication, and flexibility (Zehr, 1998).

The consequence of this present-day workplace reality is that current and future business leaders are emphasizing the development of soft skills. Institutional and corporate bodies are also increasingly calling for the deliberate inclusion of soft skills in the university curricula so that students can learn the importance of soft skills early in their academic programmes before embarking on careers in business. This curricular adoption is however slow, particularly in the educational systems of developing nations. As a result, the rise of private bodies specialized in providing training in soft skills is monumental. It, therefore, lies in the hands of anyone seeking steady career growth to take responsibility for their personal success and take advantage of the programmes and resources made available by soft skills training organizations.

To effectively compete, stay relevant and experience rapid career growth in this 21st-century world of work, career people need to get smart and go soft.

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