What are Soft Skills and Have you got them?


This could be a really important question. You’re probably skilled at a lot of things; maybe you can mend a bike puncture, change a wheel on a car, or cook or paint a room at home. Maybe you’re a dab hand on your tablet or smart phone. Aren’t these the sort of everyday activities that most of us take for granted?
You would say yes, yet these days we’re told increasingly that we still need certain other skills to ‘get on’. These can be study skills to pass exams, practical skills applicable to many jobs, and now ’soft skills’ to really be successful. You may not have heard of this last set, though. What, exactly, are ‘soft skills’? And who’s saying all this?

Soft skills are really personal skills which mean that you can do a job well and get on with people while you’re doing it. Are these important? Well, more and more, employers are looking for something called ’employability’. Similarly, universities are looking for the same skills in their candidates. And interestingly, Macdonald’s is leading the charge. The fast food chain happens to employ 70,000 young people in the UK, so they know a bit about what young people are like. It may come as a surprise to hear that now no one seems willing to believe that school leavers will be ready even for work like this. So what’s happening?

There is no shortage of ideas. A quick internet search will tell you what these necessary skills are: communication skills, flexibility, commitment. time management and more besides. The National Careers Service and universities have web pages full of good advice.

Is there really a problem, though? Well, apparently many young people have grown up believing academic studies are the only ones that count. Recently a survey found that only 25% of parents /carers thought ‘skills’ and vocational training were worthwhile – no one really thought much about ‘soft skills’. If you could read and write then that was thought to be enough. Even now, practical and IT skills are seen as less important than management skills by companies. But Macdonalds, the Association of Colleges and City and Guilds want to change a few attitudes. They estimate that soft skills are worth £88 billion to the British economy. Perhaps they thought if they said that people would listen. They also suggest that by 2020, half a million workers will be held back by their lack of these skills.

The Association of Colleges and City and Guilds partnership represents a considerable force in British education, training and business, but even they need to ask for opinions on what should be done to make things better and they know it. If you want to help them find out, you can take their survey on the issue yourself – it’s on the Macdonald’s website.

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I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!

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