When graduating from University or other tertiary education institutions, the world appears to be your oyster as you are armed with vast amounts of knowledge.
Academic success does not, however, translate immediately into desired employment. This is a known issue for employers, educators, and university leavers. Strong academic skills need to be partnered with unassessed soft skills to produce a highly employable candidate.
Soft skills are increasingly valued by businesses and can be defined as a cluster of productive personality traits.
The demand for soft skills
Employment advertisements regularly call for soft skills such as communication, time management, and critical thinking. The term ‘soft skills’ has developed into a market understanding of a, generally, set criteria.
Having the list of skills on your CV is one step; however, your ability to demonstrate your soft skills when recalling them is vital as well! For example, communication and problem-solving skills can be demonstrated to the potential employer by responding succinctly and empathetically to curveball questions.
The soft skills list
The ‘ultimate’ list has been the subject of numerous surveys in the past. The Guardian published, in 2013, statistics on soft skill terms used in 500, 000 Adzuna (UK) job listings. The results were:
Organised (Appeared in 99, 862 ads)
Communication skills (68, 064 ads)
Motivated (65, 011 ads)
Qualified (58, 955 ads)
Flexible (56, 551 ads)
Degree (54, 049 ads)
Commitment (49, 686 ads)
Passionate (47, 971 ads)
Track record (40, 741 ads)
Innovative (36, 581 ads)1
Top 10 soft skills reported in the USA
Statistics from a similar undertaken in the US and cited in Forbes, are sequentially prioritised as follows:
Ability to work in a team
Ability to make decisions and solve problems
Ability to plan, organise and prioritise work
Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organisation
Ability to obtain and process information
Ability to analyse quantitative data
Technical knowledge related to the job
Proficiency with computer software programs
Ability to create and/or edit written reports
Ability to sell and influence others
Through the research, it was determined that some desired skills – especially those related to communication – are frequently unstated by employers even when used to accept or reject candidates. Candidates should do research beyond the job advert to ascertain the full details.
Teaching of soft skills in higher education
In the UK sample, 10% of the ads list a degree being required. This does not, however, mean that 90% are not seeking degreed candidates.
The organisational skills referred to in job adverts are learned by default by top graduates. Deadlines, workloads, and exam dates ensure the delivery of multiple high-quality pieces of work. Motivation, flexibility, and commitment are also shown.
Effective communication of ideas and arguments is developed in written assignments – though it is harder to quantify successful verbal communication.
Degrees provide excellent opportunities for autodidact of communication and teamwork skills.
Why do soft skills matter?
Records show that over 66% of secondary school teachers and small and medium enterprises believe that students don’t currently have the soft skills required to be effective in the workplace. Additionally, around 70% believe soft skills receive insufficient attention in the skills gap debate (69% of SMEs and 73% of secondary school teachers).
There is not only an insufficient focus on soft skills but, conversely, there is an over-emphasis on hard skills. Around 62% of teachers and 58% of business leaders feel that schools and universities over prioritise ‘hard skills’ and ‘ignore’ soft skills.