Soft skills are your superpower

     

Rajinda Jayasinghe
UN0534778
UNICEF/UN0534778/UNICEF Sri Lanka
09 December 2021

All over the world, companies, schools and governments are waking up to the fact that Soft Skills matter. This is revolutionary. For the past 400 years, Hard Skills like science, engineering, technology, mathematics, business and finance have been prioritized at the expense of all else. Modern education was designed within this framework and thus emphasized knowledge, memorization, analytical thinking and tests.

It was considered “soft” to teach emotional intelligence, social skills, interpersonal collaboration and overall personal development. These have been largely considered private matters, best kept outside the educational system and developed on your own somehow.

Sadly, Sri Lanka is a standard bearer for this archaic approach to education. From a very young age, students are rewarded for rote memorization and nothing else. Parents, teachers and school administrators focus solely on examination results and perpetuate a factory-style system of education in which students are churned out like robots, each model looking much the same as the last, regurgitating soon-to-be obsolete knowledge and bereft of many of the innate skills and talents that set them apart as human beings.

The unfortunate result is that many of our graduates do not enter the workforce with the skills they need to be functional, let alone successful. As both an employer and an educator, it is disheartening to watch students systematically stripped of their individuality and denied the opportunity to reach their full potential.

The world is becoming an increasingly complex place. “Soft skills” are now emerging as critical because they make you more adaptive and resilient in a radically changing world. They enable you to navigate. They are the key to getting jobs, being promoted and developing successful careers. Companies and colleges understand this. This is why Soft Skills are now understood to be as important as Hard Skills. The more you develop each, the better you do with both.

More and more companies are hiring because of who you are, not because of what you know. Then, after you’re hired, you are trained in the domain in which they want you to work. Companies want to know about your Soft Skills because it is these that will determine how well you can learn new things and perform well on the job.

There is more. A study released by the World Economic Forum looked at 21 different industries in 7 Asian countries. Their conclusion: the best way for companies, governments and workers to prepare for the increasing impact of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Robotics is NOT to develop more Hard Skills but to learn Soft Skills. Soft Skills, more than anything else, are essential in developing the “flexible” workforces necessary for the future. This is an astonishing conclusion. Everything is being reshaped by advanced technology but the way to successfully deal with this is not through more technology but through the development of what makes us human - Soft Skills.

As an educator, I have seen the massive deficit  Sri Lanka faces when it comes to high performing graduates. I have also seen the huge strides students take when encouraged to develop their Soft Skills that focus on topics like global mindset, innovation, entrepreneurship, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and leadership. Through this type of education students begin to understand the importance of good health and well-being.

They learn to practice mindfulness, how to be authentic with their friends and on the job, how  to work to their strengths, to be willing to fail and be self-critical. If our students can master these skills, they will unlock their highest potential  and dramatically increase their chances of successfully navigating an increasingly complex future. For today’s youth, Soft Skills can truly be their superpower.

It is imperative then, that governments work with local and international partners to restructure our curriculums in a way that honors both Hard and Soft Skills in equal measure. This is how we will give our youth the skills they need to survive and thrive.

 

By Rajinda Jayasinghe, Vice President for Asia, Ubiquity University, Sri Lanka.