From education to employment

There’s nothing ‘soft’ about ‘soft skills’

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

A new campaign by employers is backing ‘soft skills’ as a key factor for success in the workplace. Research has shown that transferable skills such as communication, initiative, and team work have a clear economic value worth a huge £88bn to the UK economy (taking into consideration things such as speed of service, meeting quality standards, operating costs etc). Hard figures to back up ‘soft skills’.

Business giants such as McDonald’s, Barclays and the CBI are supporting the campaign to promote the value of these skills, underlining how essential they are in terms of workplace productivity and career progression opportunities.

At NCFE, we’re eager to see the results of the 3-month consultation launched by the campaign and the corresponding recommendations. At a time of high employment mobility, it’s more important than ever for individuals to be armed with the kind of skills that allow them to be versatile and transition into any role with ease. It is transferable skills which give people resilience and a professional edge. It is these skills that enable them to further their career in whichever direction it takes them, regardless of the challenges and setbacks that they might encounter.

What role doesn’t require you to communicate and cooperate? In what job would you not be expected to present yourself appropriately for work? At which organisation would good organisational skills not be applauded?

Yet for so long, these skills have gone unappreciated and unrecognised. It is thought that these ‘soft skills’ are labelled as such because they are undemanding and unimportant, unable to stand up against the ‘hard skills’ of specialist knowledge and academic theory. Many have assumed that ‘soft skills’ are simply innate and “go without saying”; that they don’t need to be highlighted, taught or developed.

This is despite the fact that many job seekers are approaching the workplace lacking these skills or at least not knowing how to articulate, demonstrate or evidence them. By underestimating the power of these skills, we are holding people back in life.

It’s true that of course transferable skills can be honed through life experience. For example, the more problems you have to overcome, the more adept you get at problem solving! However, why not set people up for success by spending some time on these integral skills rather than expecting people to simply ‘pick them up’? It’s about making sure that people know what transferable skills are, how they can translate them into behaviour and showcase them at work. Why not integrate this into a person’s learning from an early stage, enabling them to leave education / training as a well-rounded individual, ready to take on the uncertainties of the employment market?

It’s with all of this in mind that NCFE offers a number of employability related qualifications which build soft skills, including a range of bite sized units which are available for individual registration and certification. From problem solving to prioritising tasks, from managing your time to motivation or understanding change; all areas are covered.

We also partner with recruitment giant Reed to offer a number of ‘next generation’ employability solutions. REED NCFE’s qualifications are available at a number of levels in Job Search & Interview Skills, Job Search & Employment Potential and Independent Study & Career Skills. These are ideal for young people looking to take their first step on the career ladder, those facing unemployment / a career change, or those in employment wanting to refresh or develop their transferable skills.

There’s no doubt that being able to meet the occupational requirements of a job is important. But in order to do a job to the best possible standard, this needs to be complemented by transferable skills, accompanied by the right attitude and supplemented with a dash of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It’s these things which really help an individual to shine and to contribute to the success of an organisation whilst also achieving their own goals.

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

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