Why Soft-Skills are Essential for Secondary Students

UNIVERSITY AND CAREERS ADVISOR – THE LONG-READ FOR SPRING 2019

Tough-Love: Why Soft-Skills are Essential for Secondary Students

A hot topic of discussion among educators and businesses of the past 10-15 years has centred around the importance of soft-skills. While many have a cursory understanding of this term, there has been a tendency to overlook its absolutely crucial role in academic, professional and personal development.

Schools were once the place in which the foundations of these soft-skills were imparted; namely, letter writing etiquette, verbal communication skills, teamwork, personal accountability and problem-solving. These skills were taught in courses like public speaking and debate, civics classes and the even in the outdated, home economics courses.

However, since the early 1990s, as aptitude and standarised assessments became evermore pervasive at schools – and some experts have argued, an exasperating curricular component – those foundational development skills became the unfortunate “sacrificial victim”. Now, as the old English saying goes, the chickens are coming home to roost!

Countless articles in credible newspapers, business studies and scholarly research papers have expressed the same cri de coeur: graduating students and young professional may have acquired the academic know-how but they desperately lack interpersonal skills and professional etiquette.

Consider this passage from a recent Forbes article:

(A) major coalition of businesses, policy experts, trade groups, and academics are demonstrating that soft skills—specifically interpersonal skills, the ability to manage and control your emotions, communication skills, leadership, adaptability, and problem solving—are critical. …In fact, a new study from Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training, like communication and problem-solving, boosts productivity and retention 12 percent and delivers a 250 percent return on investment based on higher productivity and retention. (Bruce)

Need more convincing? Just take a look at this small sample of links from the likes of:
Business Insider
The Guardian Newspaper (UK) :
Forbes Magazine AND also this
The Independent (UK)
The University of Michigan
The Higher Learning Commission
The Harvard Business Review
The US Chamber of Commerce
The Conversation (Australia)
The Telegraph (UK)

They cannot all be wrong, can they?

In terms of commerce this translates to a lot of time and money spent training individuals on the basics of inter-personal skills and professionalism.

It has also resulted in huge loss of commercial revenue. According to an investigative report in Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) “miscommunication costs smaller companies of 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year. (Hamilton, “Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money”, 2016), while major multi-national companies with up to “100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year” (Grossman, “The Cost of Poor Communications”, 2011).

The negative impact of not having these skills are evident with the more recent firings of executives and managers at high-profile companies such as Uber, Nike, Microsoft, and Tesla Motors, to name but a few.

Lacking this skill-set not only affects the workplace, it can also hinder a student’s success in higher education, impacting everything from their chances of university acceptance to retention rates once enrolled at university.

For the past 10 years, soft-skills have been an important component of my curriculum, both in my teaching and university prep counselling.

Effective time-management, proactive and professional communication and self-motivational skills are just some of things secondary students should actively implement in their studies and in their interactions with faculty.

It can be a tough lesson for some students to learn, but I have seen first-hand the overwhelmingly positive impact this has in their academic and their personal development, boosting their self-esteem, maturity and independent learning.

For this reason, since March 2019, I have begun weekly University Prep and Careers Development workshops with Year-12 students. Plans are in the works to extend these workshops for Y12 & Y13 students for the next academic year.

These skills will not only give students a solid foundation for university and ensure a smoother transition into the expectations for tertiary education, but will truly benefit their personal and professional aspirations, as well.

Ms Nioucha Banna
University and Careers Adviso
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