From education to employment

Soft Skills – the employment enabler

Tom Cheek

What are soft skills?

In both our career and personal lives, progression relies on the development of soft skills: those human attributes that empower communication and effective connections.  For young people entering employment for the first time, often in entry positions, this holds significant importance. 

To initially secure employment, and then flourish, the education sector has the opportunity and responsibility to support individuals to build these vital skills, in a way that allows them to apply them flexibly, consistently and contextualised alongside vocational ability.  Soft skills can connect education to employment.

When considering what is meant by soft skills, exploring definitions can bring challenge, as there are different lists and perspectives of what this may or may not include.  To consider this in an alternative way, this article reflects on some of the key steps and milestones that may be experienced within a career, and how soft skills can enable or hinder (if absent or lacking development), growth and social mobility.

The use of soft skills to enter employment

As young people take their first steps towards employment, soft skills already come to the fore.  In education, learners need the skills to present their abilities, communicating their knowledge and understanding through various assessment methods.  Their ability can be presented in an amplified manner through well-honed soft skills, clarifying the level of their learning, and securing positive results.

When looking at the prospects of employment, individuals need presentation skills that format and promote themselves through application forms, curriculum vitae design and the creation of covering letters or statements.  If they can clear that first hurdle, they then need the communication and confidence skills to demonstrate to employers their suitability for work within an interview setting. 

In our world engrained with virtual platforms, the ability to be able to do this both in-person or online holds value.  The process of applying, interviewing, and securing a job demonstrates the importance of literacy and the ability to communicate with clarity and focus.

On securing their employment, entry roles will require young people to quickly build positive behaviours such as: a solid work ethic; strong teamwork; problem solving; customer service; communication; and initiative abilities too.  These types of soft skills enhance their offer to the employer and support their career momentum, enabling opportunities for personal growth and progression. 

It may be a timely moment to consider the use of numeracy in work and life too.  In both entry or progression roles, numeracy is embedded within the duties and work tasks.  These skills are part of the role and not disparate or distinct.  Just as in communication, the use of literacy and numeracy is stitched in day-to-day work.  Without it, the prospect of progression is diluted.

Progressing a career with soft skills

By creating progression routes, this can lead to improvements in confidence, motivation, and self-esteem, igniting wider and higher ambition and the appetite to achieve.  Ambition can have a direct bearing on an individual’s own perceived potential, broadening their horizon to aim higher, setting new aspirations and objectives in life, all fueling the energy of personal development and growth.

Through this vision, it can form the need to expand their soft-skill set, to match that ambition, with an example in their ability of leadership.  This brings the need for skills such as: critical thinking; active listening; empathy; negotiation; initiative and decision-making skills to name a few. 

Adaptability to change

In the ever-changing world of work, adaptability is key.  Having the ability to translate a skillset that meets the needs of different sectors and roles within.  Individuals need to have the ability to adapt their skills to meet these various demands, to maintain their employability and navigate new opportunities.

Technology and creativity

With the evolving nature of digital and technology, it is evident that digital skills for learning, and digital skills for work, are increasingly important.  They act as a common thread through virtually all sectors and occupations.  Digital health has a correlation to opportunity and social mobility.  Having the ability to communicate, lead, collaborate, listen, learn, reflect, and action, in an online space, has enormous consequence to the prospects of individuals and communities.

In terms of creativity, it can often be in the context of collaboration and convening of ideas and thoughts.   Reflection brings with it the ability to consider the journey to date, the challenges, and aspirations they have experienced or hold, and horizon scan the future to set future goals and higher ambitions still.

Soft skills for established careers

When considering individuals more established, or within the later chapters of their career, there is the constant demand for change, that relies on a commitment to maintaining and enhancing soft skills. 

This may be in the form of mentoring ability, that passes on experience and approaches to work, to those less experienced.  Equally, individuals at this stage of their career need to keep an open mind and a listening ear, to understand other perspectives and approaches that may challenge or consolidate their thoughts and approach to work, diversifying and evolving their thoughts and actions.

The pace of change is rapid.  Sustaining and expanding ones’ soft skills, forms a toolkit that protects employability and nurtures new opportunities.

Investing in soft skills

In essence, soft skills need investment:  Investment at the start to form independent learning skills and create the leap-pad into employment; the investment to fuel aspiration, aim higher and ignite prospects; and the investment made to the next generation, by passing on and sharing of experiences, values, ideas, and perspectives. 

Soft skills can help individuals focus their intent and aspire for more.  Soft skills truly are the employment enabler.

By Tom Cheek, PG Dip ODE (Open), MSET, Written on behalf of IgniteQuals

IgniteQuals primary goal is to re-define quality purpose-led Vocational Qualifications that are designed to meet the specific needs of learners who wish to take an alternative route to reach their potential. By pursuing an IgniteQuals qualification, learners will feel empowered and will go onto push boundaries within their chosen pathway – be it employment or higher education, so that they are able to live prosperous lives.

Tom has worked in technical and vocational education for over 20 years, in roles including: assessing; quality assurance; curriculum management; qualification design, technology enhanced learning; and policy. The experience has been gained through employment within the FE Sector, Private Training Providers, and Awarding & Professional Bodies.

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