Finished school and looking for work? Do you have all it takes (BSc., BA, MBA, PhD, ACCA, CIMA, CIM and so forth) to compete in the current tight labour market? The enlisted qualifications may not be enough as they capture mainly hard skills. It may be in the interest of a prospective worker to have in addition other competencies called soft or generic skills which makes socially-adjusted at the workplace.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Human Resource Management, soft skills are competencies that people possess and are associated with customer handling, communication, problem-solving and team working. Its counterpart, hard skills, on the other hand, are know-hows that employees possess in the form of numeracy, literacy, fluency in a foreign language, and other specific job-related technical abilities.
Researchers have shown that programmes that provide soft skills makes young people employable, boost their self-esteem and the lack of it results in abysmal performance during the recruitment process. These skills do not only predict success in the labour market, but impact positively the social behaviour of individuals.
Due to the growing importance of these skills, many countries in the world, particularly developed nations, have initiated programmes that equip students with both hard and soft skills. The services sector, which drives economic growth in Ghana, requires workers who can interact effectively with customers and be problem solvers. In Ghana, only the cognitive abilities of students are stressed and honed. To satisfy a troubled or “troublesome” client, a worker must utilise his or her people or social skills but there is generally a lack of these skills among young people. But all hope is not lost as parents and individuals can take advantage of avenues and programmes available in the community, educational institutions and all around us.
How soft skills can be acquired?
It is never too late to acquire soft skills or too early to help children do so. Consider, for instance, the activities that go on in church. Children are made to recite verses from the Bible during various events designed for them. Parents and guardians are to make diligent efforts to coach, support and guide their children/wards in the lead up to these events as very important skills are learnt. Their presence alone when children are performing is more than enough morale booster.
In July last year, I accompanied my cousin and his wife to attend the graduation ceremony of a school where their daughter, though was not part of the graduation class, was billed to give the opening remarks. Our presence really spurred her on. Many youth groups and clubs exist in churches. A consistent and active member will have at his or her disposal presentation, organisation and team working skills at no cost.
Taking up leadership roles in clubs or associations will boost the self-confidence of young adults and provide the grounds for similar roles in the future. Young people should also be encouraged to take up positions at the community level. Aside the social networks (a good source of job information) which may be gained, their organisation skills can also be harnessed.
The school setting where hard skills dominate has in store occasions, positions and other avenues conducive for the accumulation of soft skills. All courses run at the university informally require one or two of the students to serve as course representative (s). These reps who are enjoined to liaise with students and lecturers occasionally stand in front of the class to make announcements and lead discussions. This is also a good opportunity to take on soft skills valued at the market place where students will eventually transit to. Elections in universities are fierce; candidates need rigorous campaign teams and well-planned strategies. A student who is part of the campaign team will invariably learn to persevere, develop a healthy attitude and social skills if overindulgence and reckless behaviour are avoided.
Going to school to gather technical skills is important. In the absence of a cohesive effort to integrate the provision of soft skills into the current curricula at schools, parents and young people can take advantage of all opportunities available within their reach to take on soft skills. Soft and hard skills go hand-in-hand; one should not be sacrificed for the other given that employers may use qualifications and educational attainments to screen applicants but go beyond that by looking out for other traits. We usually do not appreciate the complexity of soft skills and the impact they have on people; their far reaching outcomes can ensure that people employed will get the job done, if not over-performed. It may be an opportune time for policy makers to consider a holistic programme that incorporate soft skills.