How soft skills smooth the way to career and life success

Rather than fret about exam passes, test scores and paper qualifications, parents should put more emphasis on nurturing the social and emotional qualities that are equally vital in helping their children to achieve, both at work and in their personal lives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 10:00am

Remember the most successful and popular students you knew in school? They seemed to be comfortable with everyone, intelligent, kind and fun. Anyone would be happy to work with them on a group assignment. These people are probably well-liked and respected as adults too, and would be valued in any workplace. What do they have that others don’t?

The answer is soft skills. These are what experts call the key skills to getting along and working with others. Those many parents are concerned with are what we refer to as hard skills, which are specific and teachable, such as maths, reading, spelling and the ability to use a computer. Hard skills can be measured by testing, and are often emphasised by schools with a focus on more traditional education.

In contrast, soft skills encompass familiar terms such as life skills, emotional intelligence and social-emotional skills. People with well-developed such abilities are organised and punctual, are good communicators, listen to others, and are empathetic. They are comfortable in social situations, making small talk and putting others at ease. These soft skills have particular value in a professional setting as they facilitate problem-solving, coordinating, negotiating and good people management – all critical for the 21st century workplace.

Hong Kong’s preteen world wushu champion Jada He is born to fight

It comes as a surprise then, that soft skills are not widely taught in schools. These skills are often set aside because of the emphasis on academics above all else. This can be detrimental to a student’s later success in the workforce.

The importance of soft skills has been highlighted in the hiring choices made by large companies such as Google in recent years. They have openly stated that their most valuable employees have highly developed soft skills rather than academic smarts. Being on time, being a team player, knowing how to resolve conflict, and having confidence and critical thinking abilities got them hired and then, more importantly, promoted.

The importance of soft skills has been highlighted in the hiring choices made by large companies such as Google in recent years

But soft skills offer more than just a pay cheque and a possible promotion. Studies carried out in the United States have shown that children who attended a soft skills training programme have less delinquency, and less need for mental health and health services in their adolescent and young adult years. Studies that tracked students from childhood also found that soft skills were a predictor of educational attainment, health, well-being and employment in young adulthood. Both are powerful arguments for including soft skills as a part of every child’s education.

Student deaths spur CUHK to teach resilience and overcoming adversity

Fortunately, many schools are beginning to take notice, and are starting to incorporate soft skills training in their curriculum. If your child’s school does not offer soft skills, find them elsewhere as an after-school activity. Consider having a variable and balanced schedule for your child that includes help in the areas of academics they need, but also team sports, dance, art and any other interest-based activities your child, not you, chooses to engage in.

It’s equally important to ensure children have time to be children and play in an unstructured, fun, physical way with friends and peers. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a child needs to be constantly entertained. Allowing time for boredom also teaches soft skills such a creativity, patience and initiative.