Your expertise at your work alone is not good enough to garner professional success. Soft skills have now become an unwritten pre-requisite for jobs across most industries
A few weeks ago, I was part of a guest lecture series at a prestigious college. Among the three guest faculties, we had covered the entire gamut of topics in the subject and the Q&A session that followed the lectures was indeed very interactive.
In the concluding remarks, a professor of the institution candidly said, “In three hours, everything that you covered is more comprehensive and useful than we could do in a month”. The principal of the institute had earlier spoken about the practical difficulties in a university’s curriculum driven pedagogy.
While the debate about the deficiencies of our university system continues, it may take ages before a balanced knowledge and skill-based curriculum becomes a reality. Hence, the focus for students seeking employment should be to attain employable skills.
Dearth of employable skills
The economy is on fast track and the GDP is set to cross 7.5 per cent. The key question is, where are the people who can be readily employed? Many surveys and research conducted by several agencies have revealed the dearth of employable skills in our students.
A report in 2007 by Nasscom revealed that only 25 per cent of our engineers have readily employable skills. More recently, as per the National Employability Report, Engineering Graduates-2014, only 18.33 per cent of the engineers are employable.
Even in Industrial Training Institutes, lack of soft skills was an impediment affecting the placement of trainees. Recognising the importance of soft skills, the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) in 2011 recommended introducing the subject Employability skills replacing Social studies in ITI curricula.
The Government of India accepted the recommendation of NCVT and introduced Employability skills from the August 2012 session.
The level of soft skills in students of other courses, including management, rendering the problem universal. With a growing economy, our industrial and service sectors can provide employment opportunities to all university graduates.
However, skills gap in potential employees is a huge challenge being faced by companies. This has forced many companies to conduct extensive training programs to employees, to fill skill gaps and provide job specific skills.
What are employability skills
Employability skills comprise hard skills or application skills based on your learning, necessary to complete a task or a job and soft skills are those that complement the hard skills.
For example, to be a successful doctor, one should have expertise to diagnose and treat a patient, which is a profession specific skill (hard skill); but s/he should also have communication skills such as probing and listening skills, confidence building, motivating skills etc (soft skills).
I have come across finance professionals proficient in financial and accounting practices (hard skills) but lack other skills such as communication, time management, decision making and problem solving etc. (soft skills) due to which they fail to grow beyond a level. In other words, it’s mandatory to have soft skills complementing job specific skills for professional success.
In general, possessing the following soft skills will make you suitable for most jobs:
- Business focus
- Self-motivation and resilience
- Communication skills
- Problem solving and decision making
- Team work & interpersonal skills
- Integrity and personal value systems
- Time management
So how does one begin to attain employability skills? Because our institutes are still focused on hard skills, you have to plan and make efforts to attain soft skills.
Consider multiple options with key benefits as below, as appropriate to your specific needs.
- Organising and participating in sports team, cultural team, lectures and seminars, group project, student society etc. Learning benefits: Initiative, leadership, resource management.
- Getting into course related projects, vacation internships, part-time work etc. Learning benefits: Discipline, planning, time management.
- Working for social causes, organising fund raising projects etc. Learning benefits: Ethics and values, social responsibility, persuasion.
- Participating in student journalism, institution newspapers and journals. Learning benefits: Communication, presentation, meeting deadlines.
- Participating in NCC, NSS etc. Learning benefits: Health and fitness, discipline, social concern.
- Organising and participating in debates etc. Learning benefits: Organising, communication, persuasion.
- Organising and participating in case studies, moot courts, mock parliaments etc. Learning benefits: Analysis, experience.
- Organising and participating in inter-college or inter-university competitions and games. Learning benefits: Leadership, initiative, ambition.
- Taking an online or offline course to build soft skills. Learning benefits: Knowledge, confidence.
- Take the help of a mentor when needed
Such initiatives will make you proficient in application and soft skills. Organising various events will help you realise the importance of taking initiative, improve your communication and ability to work in a team and help you developing strong inter-personal skills.
You will also get exposure to decision-making and crisis management, which are invaluable soft-skills in your first job. A list of such activities undertaken by you will be an impressive addition in your résumé and will lead to qualitative discussions in placement interviews and selection process.
An undergraduate or a postgraduate degree can only display your mastery of an academic discipline, but can’t prove your worth to a prospective employer. What’s of interest and relevance to an employer is your intrinsic attitude, personality and employable soft skills.
Developing employable skills will make you an assertive personality with strong communication skills boosting your self-confidence. An all round personality with well-balanced hard and soft skills will ensure your success in any employment selection process. Hard skills prepare you to make a living and soft skills enable you to live successfully.