Soft skills for 21st century jobs



The Manila Times

Campus Press

IN my column last week, I discussed bridging the skills gap. The International Labor Organization understands that a skills gap exists, and it is “a difference between the skills an employee should have to fulfill a role successfully and the skills an employee or successful candidate has.” This phenomenon affects both the individual employee or jobseeker and the enterprises across the globe. Allegedly in the United States, “92 percent of executives think that their employees aren’t skilled enough to do their jobs” (Adecco survey). As the war for talent rages, “less than a third of companies believe they have the talent necessary for digital transformation in their organizations.” A LinkedIn study shows that “59 percent of hiring managers have problems finding and hiring employees with soft skills.” Soft skills Soft skills are “personal attributes that support situational awareness and enhance an individual’s ability to get a job done.” They are not the technical skills needed to perform a particular job, like carpentry, engineering, or making an architectural drawing. They are skills that can enable someone to interact effectively with others to facilitate the use of one’s technical skill in doing a task. Often, they are called “people skills.” Investopedia says that soft skills “have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know … and employees who demonstrate they have a good combination of hard and soft skills often see a greater demand for their services.” Companies prefer to hire employees with soft skills because they have a strategic or cultural fit with the organization. Chief executives and human resources heads agree that hard skills are more easily acquired while soft skills are hard to develop. In some cases, it’s either that a person has the soft skills or not. When employees have soft skills, they talk to each other and work with each other, often resulting in productivity and quality products and services. 21st century soft skills In the 1980s, several world leaders in business, education, and government met and issued a series of reports identifying key skills and strategies to develop students’ and workers’ skills for jobs in the changing workplace. They called this set of skills the 21st century skills. Four decades later, the Philippines still needs to realign its educational and training systems toward these allimportant skills set. Here are some of the so-called soft skills, according to experts. I clustered them under the more dominant and critical skills. – Critical Thinking. Soft skills like processing of information, problemsolving and decision-making are distinctly separate soft skills, but they are closely related to critical thinking. 1) Critical thinking is a systematic process of actively conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing and processing information gathered or generated by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communicating. It is about making judgments that are logical and wellthought-out. A critical thinker does not simply accept all arguments and conclusions without questioning them. 2) Problem-solving involves analyzing a situation, identifying issues and causes, gathering facts and crafting alternative solutions. 3) Decision-making is about choosing a solution based on gathered data, facts, and using one’s sound judgment. – Communication. My simplest definition of communication is creating understanding. It is the responsibility of both the sender and receiver to understand the message. Listening is the better part of communication that is most observed in breach. Comprehension is about interpreting and understanding what one has read or heard. It involves decoding the message, making a connection between the message read or heard and what one already knows, and using his stock knowledge to think deeply about the context of the message. Speaking is that part of communication that everybody wants to do, except public speaking. Business writing, technical writing, and other forms of art require certain skills, including organizing the written work and the use of correct grammar. – Collaboration. This soft skill is about the interpersonal competency that people leverage to collectively solve a problem, reach a decision, or achieve a common goal. This is also about being able to lead or work in teams, or commonly called social skills as this involves the ability to deal with other people, teams, and networks. Collaboration enables one to harness synergy with others, share the responsibility and the load, and create a community that can form part of one’s support system. – Creativity. Creativity and innovation usually go together. Creativity is the tendency, or skill, or penchant to generate or recognize “ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems” or in dealing with others. Innovation is the end product of creativity — the successful implementation of creative ideas. Both creativity and innovation are important. Creativity leads to innovation, and innovation creates value that usually benefits others, or that customers are willing to pay for. The 21st century skills are important skills that must be learned by students and workers alike. These skills can help ensure that students will be able to adapt immediately to the real world of work, as these are the same sets of skills that enterprises are looking for. Unfortunately, I need to see evidence that in fact these are learned in school. On the contrary, data show that a great number of jobseekers, especially new college graduates, fail to meet the requirements of entry-level positions due to lack of these soft skills. Aside from the 21st century skills, I want to add other soft skills that are as critical and can help jobseekers get decent jobs and have a great career. I hesitate to call them “soft” skills. “Hard” skills might give the impression of primacy or greater importance. But some experts say that business and career success requires a combination of 80 percent soft skills and 20 percent hard skills. Learning skills include literacy and numeracy skills (refer to 2018 PISA test results where the Philippines hit the bottom), hunger for more knowledge (practical knowledge and life skills, not theoretical knowledge that must be memorized by students), and lifelong learning. Adaptability, flexibility, initiative and resourcefulness — these soft skills differentiate employees from those who need close supervision or can’t decide on anything that is not a standard operating procedure that is written in the 1970 manual of operations. Productivity, efficiency, professionalism, empathy and work ethic are important attributes that employees must possess. These are driven by principles of fairness and decency. They enhance individual and organizational performance and help ensure long-term success. Leadership, self-management, work planning, time management and organizational savvy — these are soft skills that hint of an employee’s potential. Technology and digital skills — these are badly needed, as now and in the near future most jobs will be technology-based or technology-enabled. Peggy Klaus, author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills, said, “Soft skills get little respect, but will make or break your career.” Ernie Cecilia is the chairman of the Human Capital Committee and the Publication Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham); chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines’ (ECOP’s) TWG on Labor Policy and Social Issues; and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). He can be reached at