What are soft skills and why are they important?

Soft skills, transferable skills, social skills, capabilities, life skills - some of the variety of terms used to describe a range of non technical skills essential to work and life. This lack of clarity and definition on what soft skills consist of can make them difficult for people to understand. 

While soft skills covers a broad range of competencies, there is a core set of critical life skills that make up the backbone of everyone’s soft skill set. They are an essential component for success, not just professionally but in all areas of life, and they need to be developed from an early age.

Hard vs. Soft Skills
The term "soft skills" isn’t well defined and often when I first mention soft skills I’m asked “what do you mean by soft skills?”.  At Minded we focus on a core set of skills that provide the foundation for well-being, fulfilment, academic planning and job readiness. We group these into two categories, broadly summarised as:

  • Personal skills - supporting personal development and goal setting
  • Interpersonal skills - improving communication, interacting well with others and working as part of as a team

Hard skills, in contrast, are those skills that are very easily measured and defined. Things like accounting, computer development, building, or nursing. It’s possible to obtain a degree or professional certification in these areas. They're very teachable, and almost always attainable if you have the means to pursue further education. Hard skills apply to very specific professions and generally aren’t transferable. Web design skills aren't applicable to a career as a surgeon. A nursing education isn't particularly relevant if you're looking for a job as an electrician. Hard skills will generally lock you in to a career or require significant retraining.

On the other hand, soft skills are more flexible and will serve well across numerous roles and professions. Historically soft skills have been less important and difficult to demonstrate but that is beginning to shift drastically. Employers, educators, training establishments and edtech startups are using digital channels to deliver comprehensive soft skills training to meet the needs of today and prepare young people for the jobs of the future. Soft skills are becoming one of the most valuable prerequisites to almost any job.

Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills are about how you relate and communicate with others, from classmates, friends and family to co-workers and customers. Learning interpersonal skills gives people the ability to:

  • Listen effectively and improve relationship building.
  • Empathise with others in order to improve interaction.
  • Recognise and defuse potential conflict situations.
  • Respond positively to feedback and apply it to self-development.

Personal Skills
Starting with self-reflection, personal skills focus on personal development, providing the tools for self-improvement and planning ahead. Having a strong set or personal skills give people the ability to:

  • Appraise themselves objectively to identify strengths and areas of improvement.
  • Set goals and achieve them.
  • Deal with stress. 
  • Be self-disciplined and reliable.

Having a good understanding of what soft skills are is the first step towards developing them. The best way to then learn soft skills is to put them into practice, actively thinking about how you interact with others, what you learn and can improve upon.

The jobs of the future
There’s more than one burning reason for developing a strong soft skills set, it's not just the ability to stand out from other applicants with the same technical skills when competing for a job. By 2020 5 million jobs will have ceased to exist due to automation and the use of A.I. requiring significant retraining of the existing workforce and increased competition for a smaller pool of jobs.

It's not all bad news, the fourth industrial revolution will also create 2.1 million new jobs but there's a catch. The hing is, we don’t know exactly what these new jobs will look like and there aren’t currently any pathways of study that prepare for them. What we can sensibly predict is that this industrial revolution will be driven by and require a large number of jobs in the areas of S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). It will also require most other jobs such as sales and manufacturing to have an increased understanding of the newly emerging technologies like machine learning and the internet of things. 

This all points towards an increasing need to have an agile approach to work and the ability to work across teams, roles and disciplines. Ergo, a strong soft skill set will be a fundamental requirement for having a successful and satisfying career. 

At Minded we start by identifying an individual’s personality profile, associated strengths and helping them find their passion. Our learners use this insight along with a blended digital experience to develop a personal plan and acquire the personal and interpersonal skills to achieve their goals. Our aim is to give young people the tools and skills they need to plan their pathway, prepare for the workforce and be successful at work and in life.

If you’d like to find out how we help young people get job ready and prepare for the workplace of the future, give us a shout