WHY DO SOFT SKILLS MATTER NOW?
Because we live in such a competitive education and work landscape, the bar for success is higher than ever. Teachers are saying that they believe students are under more pressure than at any point in living memory. With more (quality) third level qualifications and highly educated workforces, ‘hard skills’ are not the differentiators that they used to be.
Success that is reliant solely on cognitive skills is increasingly precarious due to globalisation and technological innovation. Therefore, many young people struggle with the tension between the modern, more realistic vision of success and the traditional expectations of their parents generation.
MODERN SUCCESS, REDEFINED
There is a lot of conversation today around the idea of ‘early success,’ and young people are feeling under pressure to perform in certain ways. All this is further heightened by social media cross comparison - social media used to be about social times, but professional cache now often trumps social currency.
“Forget Forbes’s 30-under-30 list: when it comes to “freshness,” 30 is the new 40. At her age, Taylor Swift isn’t even considered precociously successful– she’s just regular successful. In fact, it’s been a banner year for wunderkind, and not just in entertainment (which has always been fixated on the young and beautiful.) 18-year old Saira Blair just became the youngest American lawmaker when she was elected to the West Virginia Legislature. 18-year old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson took up a second career—as a Broadway star—as her magazine Rookie rakes in 3.5 million hits a month. 17- year old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize.” - How the Cult of of Early Success is bad for Young People, TIME.com
It’s no surprise then that because of external pressure and internal ambition, success is being redefined by current younger generations. It is more of a personal thing - a personal choice, rather than being something someone else defines for you. It differs depending on the individual (of course), but is consistently driven by more human qualities than academic or corporate ambitions. For example, ‘lifelong’ career paths are a thing of the past. For younger generations, job hopping is the norm. It is also now estimated that younger generations will have an average of 14 jobs in their “career”. 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
As a consequence, the skills associated with traditional success - are being redefined. Career pathways are already looking more varied, non-linear and require both hard and soft skills, with many new roles rooted in data sciences and technology. A clear focus-shift toward ‘soft skills’ in particular, shows us how the workplace is adapting for an uncertain future. Where hard skills are cognitive, soft skills are social.
Soft skills are defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “personal qualities that enable you to communicate well with other people”. Collins Dictionary refers to them as “interpersonal skills such as the ability to communicate well with other people and to work in a team.”
With this, there is actually more pressure for students to perform in different ways (i.e. not just academically but also to engage in extra curricular and co-curricular activities). They are painfully aware that many employers are now taking their high grades and academic prowess as a given, and are instead looking at the bottom end of their CV’s - to what their personal interests, projects and aptitudes are, to differentiate and assess applicants. This includes everything from volunteering and civic engagement, to personal side-gigs like app development through to leadership skills acquired through key group/college projects - all adding up to how that student can enhance and frame their emotional intelligence for potential employment opportunities.
STUDENTS REFOCUS ON SOFTER SKILLS
We are starting to see educators and learning organisations respond to this changing dynamic, to help young people assess, harness and articulate the value of their soft skills in the modern and future-focused work environment.
Exit Entry is a category innovator app, developed in Ireland but with a global perspective. This is a platform designed to help young people to discover what emotional intelligence and in-built, natural aptitudes they have, while also connecting them with companies and brands who have work opportunities which best match them. Lewize Crothers, CEO and founder of Exit Entry recognises that it’s time to help young people with this refocus on soft skills, and help harness them for the modern workplace:
“Students are more than their academic grade, they have incredible skill sets and interests. In a world of Ai , automation and machine learning these skill sets will play a vital role in the workplace. It’s time for change and Exit Entry is championing this change for students.”
Thinkhouse also recently created a new nationwide creative campaign for Griffith College. Called “An Eye on The Future”, it draws on the concept of the ‘third eye’ which is a symbol of a higher consciousness and insight in many cultures. In the campaign, the third eye emphasises the importance of softer skills including emotional intelligence and communication. Head of Marketing at Griffith College, Steven Roberts, said: “At Griffith, we’re as ambitious as our students are. For this campaign, we wanted an idea that represented us perfectly – future focused, innovation-centric and welcoming.”
Rather than focus on a narrow idea of ‘success’, younger generations are cultivating their own personal take on success. They are more focused on ‘progress’ and creative self improvement. Young people are limitless learners. There is an inherent willingness to experiment and innovate to stand out - all of these being milestones to progress (and success). Design thinker, Creative thinker, Emotionally Intelligent Adapter, are on young people’s CV must-haves.
Because there is no precise definition of what a career or job will look like for the world’s youth in the new economy, there is an opacity that leads to understandable anxiety and uncertainty. At the same time, there is no limit to the possibilities.
For brands looking to engage with and recruit talent in this landscape, there is an opportunity to consider how you can support and embrace the unique attributes and soft skills which help that young person shine, both now and into their future. With young people invested in building their skills over the duration of their work lives, it is essential that brands and organisations consider how they implement continuous training to embrace (and build on) the inherent, natural social skills of the next generation.