By Amreen Pathan
soft skills (noun)
- Personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
Alternate names: interpersonal skills; essential skills; non-cognitive skills; transferable skills.
This definition alone conveys the importance of developing soft skills in children. This is because it comments on the nature of soft skills as a requirement for social and human interaction which a child should possess to some extent to be successful beyond school in higher educational settings and in professional capacities.
What exactly are soft skills?
The definition above describes them as personal attributes. A more encompassing definition in my opinion is as follows:
Soft skills are non-technical characteristics related to an individual’s ability to manage the social, professional and personal aspects of their lives in ways that are efficient, systematic and as mentioned above, ‘harmonious’.
Although hard skills (learned abilities acquired and developed through education, training and practice such as degrees, diplomas, language skills etc.) are essential for specific roles at work, soft skills ensure the right mindset for a job, help distinguish one candidate from another in a professional setting, are more inter-personal, and are cultivated rather than just taught.
To highlight the difference between soft and hard skills, take the example of an English teacher. An English teacher must have a relevant degree as well as some level of teacher training and CPD in order to be eligible to teach and/or continue teaching. This covers hard skills. The teacher however must also be able to work with their colleagues in the department, communicate with pupils and parents, problem-solve to meet pupil needs when designing a lesson and so forth. All of this involves soft skills. Without these, a teacher would fail to be a good and effective teacher.
A Harris Poll survey for Express Employment Professionals found that over fifty percent of employers value soft skills as absolutely essential when considering a job applicant. This is because soft skills are transferable and can be used in any sector regardless of the role.
This is why potential candidates will list particular soft skills with detailed examples in the ‘desired’ sections of applications and resumes when seeking employment.
Examples of soft skills
Listing all the soft skills in the world is near to impossible – the list would be endless especially because these attributes are an amalgamation of personal, social and professional qualities.
Just as an example, however, the following list highlights what exactly we mean by soft skills:
- Critical thinking
- Time management
- Conflict resolution
Which soft skills are most valued by employers?
According to the same Harris Poll survey above, the top essential soft skills in order of importance are as follows:
- Work ethic
- Problem solving
In another survey of 1000 hiring managers, self-direction, motivation and adaptability were listed as the top attributes along with communication skills and problem-solving.
If I had to select three of the most important soft skills, what would I choose?
I asked myself this and really had to pause to reflect on this. I eventually decided on the following:
- Communication skills
I chose this because this involved both being able to communicate ideas both verbally and in written form as well as listening. As such, both are important even in a non-professional capacity to form new relationships and maintain old ones. An effective communicator will also have empathy because one cannot consider themselves a genuine listener if they lack empathy.
Demonstrating a strong work ethic is invaluable. This is because an individual with a strong work ethic will fulfil every role to the best of their ability. Further, a strong work ethic indicates a person’s dedication and passion and also confirms the presence of other soft skills like organisation, dependability and time management.
As a teacher as well as an aspiring writer, this is important to me. Creativity gives space to those individuals who may not necessarily be traditionally academic but intelligent nonetheless. A creative thinker problem-solves, thinks outside the box, is resourceful and innovative and values learning in whatever shape or form.
Nature or nurture?
Bearing in mind that soft skills are personality dependent, it is easy to assume that soft skills cannot be taught at all. There are hard skills even that are – on the face of it – not always teachable either or at least more innate in some compared to others. This is why we have elites in every field; be they athletes, poets, artists, architects, analysts and so forth. I see natural aptitude all the time in the classroom: born writers and gifted orators!
The reality is though that both hard and soft skills can be developed. Just as one may go to the gym to exercise their muscles and gradually improve their strength and performance regardless of their starting point, soft skills can also be cultivated over time.
So how exactly can we foster such skills in young children?
Yes, learning through play.
Let’s take a jigsaw puzzle. As well as spatial awareness, hand coordination and an opportunity to learn numbers, colours, animals and so forth, jigsaw puzzles will develop a child’s ability to reason logically and problem solve. It also teaches patience and perseverance as well as the concept of ‘whole’. Each part must fit together for the whole to work which also indirectly teaches the child about the value of teamwork.
What about a second example? Let’s take a physical sport. Encouraging your child to partake in sports or organising a physical activity and participating with them, will foster healthy competition, team spirit, motivation and resilience.
Cooking with older children will inspire creativity and collaboration. Want to teach time management? Introduce the cyclical nature of time by observing trees and leaves when outdoors. Point out the different seasons and the changes you observe together according to these different seasons. This will help a child grasp the concept of time. Create colourful and fun pictorial calendars and ritual charts together to dictate some sense of order and predictability and this will reinforce routines within the space of a child’s day. Or plant a plant! Following its growth will teach a child patience.
Most important perhaps is modelling soft skills. When a child does something that tests your patience, how do you react? With anger or with love? Whatever your answer may be, remember that a child’s greatest teacher is their parent and that their education starts from home.
We give so much importance to academia and technical skills that we forget to teach children the really important stuff.
A study conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Centre highlighted that ‘soft skills account for 85% of professional success while hard skills and knowledge account for only 15%’.
By teaching children soft skills, we are setting them up to succeed. A child may not have a natural aptitude in any given field but armed with perseverance and determination, they can get better in said field. Armed with the ability to collaborate and work in a team, they will be open to new ideas, constructive criticism and with a dose of healthy competition, can surpass expectations.
Islam values intelligence. But Islam values character more. With this logic, I felt it lacking to conclude without highlighting Islam’s stance on soft skills.
The noble Prophet (PBUH) was illiterate. Despite this, his communicative skills were outstanding. He was able to communicate and deliver ideas, thoughts and emotions to a vast number of people of different societal standings, education and ages in an era and culture of exceptional orators.
For example, the Prophet (PBUH) would emphasise his points by not only speaking clearly and concisely by repeating them three times. Scientifically, ‘repetition is a key learning aid as it transitions… the learning… from the conscious to the subconscious.
The Prophet (PBUH) understood this and was, therefore, able to communicate his points to his companions efficiently and successfully.
Similarly, the Prophet’s (PBUH) non-verbal cues were as brilliant and enlightening as his verbal ones. When he was displeased, for example, he would simply look away to express his disapproval. His posture was such that he would come across as the tallest person in the room despite being moderate in height. This demonstrated his confidence and natural leadership.
A short snippet of the Prophet’s (PBUH) communication skills alone highlight the importance of soft skills. There are other countless sayings and traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) as well as Islamic obligations and Quranic teachings emphasising the importance of soft skills. Take our daily prayers as an example. If a prayer is not offered on time, then it loses its blessings and the promise of full reward. This teaches a Muslim time management. Similarly, Islam emphasises the importance of critical thinking through the two concepts of meditation: Tafakkur and Tadabbur (contemplation and reflection) also discussed briefly in this parenting workshop.
The examples are countless – perhaps a topic of discussion for a future article? But the message is clear. Soft skills are crucial for success – both from a worldly and an Islamic perspective.
What soft skills do you deem as vital and valuable? And how do you reinforce them in your young ones? I’d love to know! Share your thoughts and comments below.
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