The importance of soft skills in the workplace has increasingly caught the attention of employers and students alike. People are realizing that there is more to succeeding as an employee, and as an entire organization, than simply having the ‘hard’ skills needed to get the job done.
Instead, the ‘human’ element needed to connect with customers and work as a team within the organization has become crucial. The human element cultivates the leadership intrinsic to bringing everyone forward together within the business; it is what professionals need to thrive in the business world. That explains why a 2016 study found that 93 percent of employers reported that they saw soft skills as either “essential” or “very important” when they desire to make a hire for their company.
Similarly, a 2015 study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers want to see leadership skills as well as teamwork skills in the college graduates they hire. These professionals have begun to realize that the employees who really help the business thrive are the ones who bring quality soft skills to the table.
The growing prominence of soft skills within the workplace should be a priority of any student preparing to earn a degree to launch themselves into the workforce. Students want to find a way to not only learn the necessary hard skills that will provide the training they need for their desired field, but they also need to learn how to nurture critical soft skills that will make them appealing to employers and valuable to the organization.
Why do businesses care about soft skills?
The question of why businesses have begun to care so much about soft skills has been on the tip of many people’s tongues. After all, it can appear to be nearly impossible to quantify the benefit of seeking out employees with important soft skills or the value of providing training to help employees build their skill arsenal.
That does not mean, however, that some people have not tried to better understand the outcomes of improving soft skill abilities. One study conducted by professors at MIT Sloan, the University of Michigan, and Boston College looked at the impact of providing soft skills training to workers in factories. They found that even in this repetitive environment, improving the soft skills of the workers resulted in a 250 percent ROI.
People around the world have also noticed the increasing rates of automation infiltrating nearly every type of business. Many companies continuously look for ways to add more machine learning and automation into their processes.
The importance of the human element has thus emerged to the forefront. Machines do not have the capacity to incorporate human traits, including the ability to identify with others. Businesses have realized that these human characteristics are what makes the business grow and thrive.
This remains particularly true in the hospitality industry. There, organizations want to create a customer experience where the buyer feels understood and as though the business wants to provide their personal satisfaction. As organizations better understand the importance of soft skills, the more they will look for them in the new hires they bring on board.
How can students ensure that they receive this critical type of training?
Students who recognize the importance of soft skills when they enter the workforce, therefore, will want to find a school that not only promotes it, but embeds it right into the curriculum. This type of training will make it clear that the school understands the importance of soft skills training and places it as a priority for their institution.
In an environment where soft skills are prioritized, the students will know that they will receive not only directed training regarding the various critical soft skills, but that they will also have opportunities to practice and cultivate their abilities throughout their studies. When they enter the workforce, these students will have confidence in their soft skills and be ready to show prospective employers why they have the traits they want to see in new hires.
How can schools implement soft skills training?
Schools that want to incorporate soft skills training into their curriculum can use a variety of teaching strategies and courses to help make this a reality. Here are a few ideas.
Provide students with opportunities to practice teamwork and leadership
Students need opportunities to practice their teamwork and leadership skills. Assigning projects that provide them with tasks to be completed in unison, where they have to think about how they will divide up responsibilities and all work together towards a collective goal, will help them to simulate a common situation in the work environment.
However, as a part of learning soft skills, these students also need opportunities to improve their abilities. This means that teachers must understand how to give constructive feedback regarding soft skills in particular.
Incorporating categories on the grading rubric that look at soft skills, such as the ability of the students to display leadership traits, work collectively, and problem solve as a unit will help tremendously. This encourages students to be mindful of their behavior during the project and lets them know where they shine and where they have room to improve immediately, giving them a great launching point to boost their abilities.
Incorporate opportunities for public speaking into class
Public speaking and related communication also rank highly among employers for soft skills that they want to see in their new hires. People who can get their ideas across to others in an effective way can then work better in a team.
Along the same lines, the people who understand how to listen to others effectively and use that insight to improve their own work will also be far more effective in the work environment. Those interested in incorporating some soft skills training into the curriculum should create learning opportunities to help students with these communication skills.
Provide them with chances to present their ideas for a research project in a public speaking format. Encourage the other students in the class to actively listen to what they say and then ask constructive, relevant questions based on the presentation.
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Offer workshops that focus on specific skills
In addition to providing opportunities for personal growth and success in class, schools can also offer targeted workshops that help students learn more about particular soft skills, such as self-awareness and problem-solving skills. A focused seminar or class can help them dive deeper into the theory and understanding of the topic and what they can do in their own professional careers to improve their abilities. Opportunities to model and practice these targeted skills can also be incorporated into the specialized class.
Encourage students to come up with creative solutions
In a soft-skills friendly learning environment, teachers should also remember to encourage students to develop creative solutions. Rather than expect students to develop run-of-the-mill answers to their questions and obstacles, they should look for new ideas that allow for some outside-the-box thinking.
Let students know that the same solution does not always work when seeking to solve a particular problem and encourage them to come up with their own solutions. This type of thinking not only can help their problem-solving skills and leadership, but this type of innovation also helps to drive companies forward and will be highly valued by many forward-thinking employers.
Give students opportunities to practice different roles
As the curriculum encourages students to learn about the different soft skills and how they can incorporate them into their professional life, they should also remember that different periods in their jobs will require them to take on different roles. Sometimes they may be the person communicating their ideas and they will call upon their skills in speaking and effectively communicating. Other times, they will need to use their skills in active listening. Similarly, there will be times when they get called upon to lead a project, while others they will be expected to work collectively with their team while following a leader.
For this reason, students should also receive ample opportunities to try out different roles throughout their studies. Sometimes they should demonstrate their leadership on group projects, other times look for their teamwork skills.
To ensure that everyone has time to practice the different important soft skills for their industry, teachers can consider assigning roles occasionally, such as appointing one person a speaker and the others as active listeners that will be expected to demonstrate a firm understanding of what the speaker presents.
In the modern workplace, soft skills have become a critical feature that no business wants to overlook. Students, therefore, want to see out schools and programs that will help them cultivate these soft skills right alongside their hard, technical, skills. Consider how the training tips above can help create a soft skills training environment that will nurture the development of emerging professionals who will enter the job world ready to thrive.