A report by Deloitte found that 63% of all jobs in Australia will be soft skill intensive by 2030.
The report also stated that there will be likely shortages in soft skills such as -
- digital skills
- problem solving
- critical thinking.
What do we mean by these soft skills?
Let's look at what these skills actually are.
Communication refers to how well a person expresses concepts, ideas, and feelings.
- verbal (spoken) communication
- written modes communication
- non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions.
The way that that we talk, for example, our tone of voice, is a strong method of communicating. Communication skills can be taught, but they are also something we often develop throughout our lifetime. We can take courses, such as public speaking, or customer service, reading micro-expressions on people’s faces, but there are often not general courses on how to communicate with others.
Self-management is an umbrella term that refers to a wider set of skills including –
- time management
- attention management
- managing stress
- taking ownership of work and responsibility
Time Management is easy to measure, isn’t it? We can see if someone is consistently late or consistently punctual. But is it easy to tell if a person is managing their time well at work? In some environments, it can be easy to measure time management. For example, in a warehouse setting, it is often recorded how many parcels a person picks in an hour time frame. We can see then if they are managing their time well and meeting their statistics.
But it is not so easy in other areas. For example, an experienced writer is asked to write this blog on soft skills. They might do it in half an hour or an hour. A less experienced writer may take two hours. Does that mean that they manage their time badly? Or that they are simply less experienced?
It is hard to measure all of these skills really. Another example, we might see that a person is stressed and is finding it hard to work. But how do we tell that a person is managing their stress well and getting on with their job? This could be hard to do. They may be very stressed and doing the job. Or may actually not be stressed at all.
It could be argued that the last three skills that the Deloitte report mentioned - Digital skills, problem solving skills and critical thinking – could be hard or soft skills, but there are elements of personal skills in all three of them.
Digital skills refers to
- Technological ability (e.g., word processing, email, spreadsheets, photo editing, social media), and
- Digital fluency. This encompasses how comfortable you are with using technology, how easy it is to learn new systems and/or adapt to technological changes.
Digital fluency is a soft skill, which include elements of
- personality (including comfort with change)
- base level learning, such as the anatomy of a digital system.
Problem solving refers to a person’s ability to solve different types of problems. It is important to note that this soft skill includes both simple and complex problems, as employers do not want complex solutions when a simple solution will be just as effective.
Problem solving encompasses:
- analytical skill — breaking down the problem
- creativity — seeing multiple potential solutions
- practicality — finding the most workable solutions, potentially testing solutions
- flexibility — being able to move with changing needs and adapt the solution as needed.
While analytical skill is often included in the hard skills, the other elements of problem solving are very much personal attributes.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to assess ideas, evidence, and other information and consider its value in context.
In many cases, it does require a degree of content knowledge, but people with higher-order critical thinking skills are able to critically assess material even without content knowledge as they can “find the gaps” in reasoning and logic.
This means they can:
- question where the information presented came from
- consider if the information is biased (e.g., Studies of a drug funded by a drug company)
- identify gaps in content (e.g., The sky is blue. Why is the sky blue?)
- identify gaps in application (e.g., We should use this process with these tools. We do not have funding for those specific tools. What if we tried these instead?)
- and more.
This skill is very much dependent on a person’s perspective, i.e., how they approach information, and the world in general.
A critical thinking approach can be taught, but it is most likely taught by recognising human biases and understanding the value of asking questions. Taking a course in problem solving, such as our Short 20 hour course How to Solve Problems course, can be a useful starting point from which to gain more experience in problem solving.
Accrediting Soft Skills Courses
Accreditation refers to the value or quality of courses.
When we look back at the soft skills we have talked about here, two things stand out -
- They can be difficult to teach in a traditional sense.
- They can be difficult to grade in a traditional sense.
This is because soft skills are more personal, and they are also based on a person’s experiences. As humans, we learn about communication through our experiences with communication. We learn to improve and refine communication by communicating with others, whether this is verbally, written or non-verbally.
Similarly, we learn about self-management through the act of self-management, then thinking about what worked and what didn’t work.
To develop these skills in a course, we need carefully designed coursework that asks the student to consider their experiences, what worked well, what didn’t work well, then use that knowledge to improve strategies for working on new situations. This is a part of the learning process.
Accreditation is often used as a way of rubber stamping a course — it is intended to say, “this is a good course, developed by professionals”.
However, while there are soft skills trainers and professionals, as we have seen, soft skills are about experience and personal attributes, and so accreditation as an idea becomes questionable.
Can we accredit a personal attribute? Can we accredit an individual?
To answer this, we must look at the course design process.
A course looking at soft skills will most likely not follow the traditional method of designing and writing a course.
Definitions and explanations are an important part of the learning.
- In a communication skills course, it would be important to be able to explain the difference between verbal and non-verbal communication.
- In a problem solving course, it would be useful to know how to define the different methods of solving problems.
But actually using verbal and non verbal communication or solving a problem are hard to measure, and therefore hard to accredit.
Most courses have outcomes. An outcome is a specific measurable statement. For example, at the end of this maths course, the student will know how to multiply and divide.
It is harder to measure soft skills as they are more subjective.
Student A and Student B are good at talking. They can both talk – a lot.
Student A is good at talking to people, she listens, she pays attention. She explains herself clearly and well. She is friendly and enthusiastic.
Student B is good at talking at people. She doesn’t really listen or pay attention to what other people say, but she is also good at explaining things clearly and well. She is also friendly and enthusiastic.
If we measured the communication of both students, we might think – they are both good at talking. They are both good at explaining themselves clearly.
BUT are they both good communicators?
Communication is a two way process. It involves the speaker and the listener. Student A is good at listening to what others say. Student B isn’t. So Student A is the better communicator, but if we are measuring how well they talk and explain, they would both be graded the same!
Another example, communication is not just about talking.
Communication includes :
- Answering emails
- Verbal communication on the phone
- Face to face verbal communication
- Non-verbal communication
A person may excel at written communication but be a poor face to face communicator.
Let’s look at a retail customer-service role. Even if we specify the type of communication the course would teach for accreditation purpose, we can break customer-facing communication into even smaller parts, such as:
- explaining complex concepts, such as warranties
- conflict resolution — complaints, escalating incident management
- sales — broken into specific types of sales and specialty products
- dealing with returns
These are just some examples of the types of customer service skills a person working in retail sales might have to use. But each of the parts listed could have 2-3 learning outcomes of its own, and still not accurately explain the soft skills required to perform the role.
As such, it is difficult to see accreditation as the best way to assess the value of courses for training in soft skills.
Soft Skills Are Important
Soft skills are, therefore, a vital part of employment in the 21st century.
It is important for job seekers to be able to show their abilities in these areas.
It is also important for organisations to ensure that their staff are trained in soft skills to meet the needs of their organisation and customers.
Soft skills are not taught in the traditional way. This means that it is hard to accredit courses in soft skills training areas. Finding the right course is not, then, looking for an accredited course, but
- finding a course that provides you with knowledge and opportunities to develop those skills
- then using that knowledge in the real world to improve your soft skills
At ACS we believe that Soft Skills development is important for the overall improvement of a person , team and workplace.
Everyone can benefit from some focused training and development in order to help them reach their full potential.
Explore your options for soft skills training online with ACS …
Some of our most popular and relevant Soft Skills online courses that can help improve personal competence , communication , time management and enhance people skills are :
Problem Solving Short Course
If you are a business looking for training and staff development head to our Training and Staff Development Page to see how we can assist you further.
If you are unsure what to study or need some guidance contact our FREE Course Counsellors who can help you decide what's best for you and your desired outcomes.