Help with advancing soft skills learning

This second blog by IOE Adviser Akustina Morni offers guidance on how to promote learning of soft skills from primary school to the workplace.

We know soft skills get no respect despite being critical elements to the future of work. Following on my previous blog where I diagnosed the problem, here I offer some ideas on how to promote the value of soft skills and help young people develop them.

One always cautions against one solution to fit all situations. However, research has shown that the following actions, when taken at the right time within the right context, can work:

1. Positive engagement with employer organisations in your country

Employer organisations represent the interests of the private sector and depending on the national circumstance, can be in the form of a Chamber of Commerce and Industry or a business federation.

Employer organisations are the closest to the labour market, understand what the private sector needs in the country, region or local area, and provide top guidance on social and labour issues. They have access to the latest data on skills needs and, in many cases, work side by side with recruitment agencies. A national skills mapping exercise would not be complete and effective without inputs from national employer organisations.

2. The promotion of lifelong learning

Proactive learning should not necessarily stop when school ends. In fact, when one thinks about it, lifelong learning (LLL) is no longer optional. LLL is to do with the ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for personal and professional reasons, also known as learning from ‘cradle to grave’. It is different to traditional learning 50-60 years ago.

The unfortunate reality is… a ‘job for life’ is scarce these days. Workers nowadays need more than just a single degree or school certificate. There needs to be a continuous effort and motivation to reskill and upskill oneself, not just for employability’s sake, but also for social inclusion and personal satisfaction in learning something new. There are only two countries in the world which have institutionalised LLL in their labour policies: France and Singapore. Singapore was dubbed by the WEF as the most ‘future ready’ country in the world. Could this be more than sheer coincidence?

3. Reforming the education system

Youth unemployment is on the rise and there are no signs of this abating. More than 63 million youth today do not have a job.  The good news is that, based on the joint  survey published by the International Organisation of Employers and the International Labour Organization (ILO), 72% of employers would welcome changes to make it easier to play a more active role in developing skills by influencing educational systems. It is just a matter of governments inviting employers, through employer organisations, to give their views on what is needed by the labour market. This is a crucial approach to address the problems of skills mismatches and gaps.

4. Ensuring kindergarten teachers receive good salaries

Acquiring soft skills naturally start at a very young age, and it is important for children to acquire these skills effectively, in preparation for not just the workplace, but for life. And in most cases, who are the first people they meet outside the home, other than family? They are the teachers at kindergarten, the creche, or pre-school institutions.

It would remiss of us to ignore the important role that kindergarten teachers play in the child’s skills development. Soft skills start there, where children spend a lot of time during the week, and without giving these teachers any incentives to guide children on basic skills such as manners, communications, child conflict resolution and others, parents and guardians will need to look at other ways to teach these skills.

5. No entity can do it alone

Like many global issues, there is a need for regular effective coordination efforts. The governments, workers and employers all need to act. This is where the ILO has shown its worth; and this is where ILO tripartite cooperation works best. What needs to expand is the political will to make this coordination a reality.

6. And just as important as soft skills is the attitude towards work.

Your attitude is a form of expression of yourself. You can choose to be happy, positive and optimistic, or you can choose to be pessimistic, suspicious and critical, with a negative outlook on your workday. A positive attitude helps you cope better under stressful situations at work, and in fact, helps you to acquire the soft skills needed. A positive attitude to embrace new technologies and techniques is very much valued by employers.

The IOE is ready to embark on a major project in 2019 to help its members navigate through the fast-changing skills needs by looking at governance, anticipation and development. Watch out for this space.

Let’s show more respect for soft skills. And let’s work together to develop the skills of today to meet the needs of tomorrow.

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