Note: This article on the power of soft skills for employability is based on the inputs from Mr. Bhaskar Natarajan, Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Head – Programme Execution, Tata STRIVE.
Learn more about Tata STRIVE courses and its initiatives in skill development – https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/tata-strive/
We asked young people a question or two on communicating at the workplace. In the responses received, we saw a pattern…
“I’m good at technical skills but somehow I’m unable to share my thoughts and go to the next level.”
“I don’t agree with my supervisor’s ideas but I feel it is okay to keep quiet.”
“I’m scared to express my thoughts. What if I am not heard or what if my supervisor rejects my thoughts? Or might even respond with aggression!?”
“I find it difficult to work with my team. It’s difficult to get along with them.”
A fundamental theme cutting across these was that of soft skills. Being able to communicate, having active listening skills, expressing creativity, being a team player, being adaptable, and being able to solve problems, all come under soft skills.
Possessing these skills – in addition to skills of the domain – provide new entrants, and existing workforce alike – a better shot at adapting to the changing nature of work.
Why are soft skills necessary?
In the Annual Employability Survey 2019 by Aspiring Minds, it was pointed out 80% of Indian engineering graduates were not employable. Employers also noted that campus recruitment drives are yielding fewer employable candidates. Employers are raising concerns that many employees lack basic “workplace readiness” skills, especially at the entry level.
Some of the scenarios include:
- An entry-level employee does not know how to ask for personal leave. They often take time off from work and come back after a week.
- It was observed that even when a specific task is given, there is very poor accountability. A lot of follow-ups are needed. This means increased bandwidth of supervisors, which in turn means more costs.
- Many act emotionally when a difficult situation presents itself. For instance, a dispute with a customer or a disagreement with the supervisor, or a difficult conversation with a colleague. This takes a lot of counseling and cajoling to ensure they are ‘okay’ and stay on the job. This again means more time and cost in managing such an ‘untrained’ or ‘unskilled’ workforce – at least on the life skills front. This often happens because employees are not explicitly taught to do so. Hence, many may not and do not speak up even when they need support.
- Another commonly observed scenario is ‘Jump Ship’. Employees jump to another organisation, invariably to a competitor for a mere Rs. 500/- or Rs. 1000/- hike in salary. Employees do not understand that frequent job changes would not reflect well in the long run and they end up not learning anything about the organisation or process or the job in detail.
Many of these kinds of behaviours are considered unprofessional and may not be acceptable for employers who have strict customer/client commitments. These commitments need to be honoured and such behaviours understandably put their brand and reputation at risk. This drives away their trust in such a new/entry-level workforce and they adopt a “wait and watch” approach. Since the attrition is also high, the compensation is not lucrative. Employers feel that even if they invest in training these resources, they tend to leave sooner, and thus making these investments a sunk cost. This becomes a vicious cycle or a zero-sum game where no one wins.
Why do students/ employees lack soft skills?
Let us understand this with the example of an iceberg. In any soft skills training, what is visible or observable to the naked eye is the tip of an iceberg, i.e., only one-eighth of an iceberg. This is the behaviour. What is often overlooked or not paid attention to is the hidden part of an iceberg beneath the water level. These are values, beliefs, limiting beliefs, thoughts, motives, traits, feelings, emotions, habits, culture, character, and many more.
How is Tata STRIVE bridging this gap?
Tata STRIVE’s Youth Development Module (YDM) covers various aspects of this ‘hidden’ or not commonly ‘observed’ aspect of human behavior. A Facilitator or Trainer is equipped with various tools including games, interactive group activities, reflective exercises, opportunities for learners to make class/group presentations, ‘team-led’ projects to implement the techniques learned in the class.
A trainer also uses inquiry-based and project-based learning methodology to provoke independent thinking, problem-solving mindset, encouraging systems thinking, emotional intelligence at critical moments, and application of growth mindset to name a few.
Consider the term ‘employability’ – the term itself is enough to turbocharge conversations in the Skill Development ecosystem. But what does it mean to the employer? And to and for the learner? For the latter employability may simply mean learning technical skills – those necessary fundamentals of the craft at hand that “will help get me a job”. But for an employer, it’s more than that. Yes, technical skills are important but equally important are soft skills or life skills. For it is through working upon these skills, enhancing and honing them is that results in better performance during interviews and then, better placements for the centre or institute.
Domain and soft skills, both lay the foundation for one another. But this also involves bringing about an understanding, a shift, to help the learner develop a realisation that a mix of the two is key. Tata STRIVE’s course content is designed to bring out this importance not just via the course design but even through its cadre of facilitators who understand this importance and are trained to groom for the employability of learners.
It is therefore imperative more than ever before, that the perspectives of fresh graduates and employees’ shift from factoring the ‘now’ to the ‘next’. And with mandatory work from home policies implemented across organisations due to the sudden disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of being guided by soft skills assumes all the more significance – as we continue to be connected virtually – with self-discipline and resolve to be drivers of a very pertinent realization – ‘I need to invest in myself’.