The Australian student voices on soft skills needed for the future white paper is university focused, however developing soft skills really does transcend educational sectors.
It argues that, in the 21st Century, it is becoming increasingly important for students to develop soft skill competencies alongside the technical skills required for their career.
Students agree that soft skills are important
The paper and its associated survey of 1000 found that:
“88% of Australian students believe soft skills are necessary for their future career and 78% agree that soft skills will give them an advantage in the changing workforce due to technological automation.”
In addition, it reports that the top three soft skills Australian students believe are most needed for career success. These are: (1) the ability to solve complex problems, (2) thinking critically and (3) being creative. Other relatively highly rated soft skills include people management, cognitive flexibility, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence and judgment and decision making. More minor ones identified include having a service orientation and negotiation.
The paper includes the views of a number of experts on these issues too. They point out that problems can vary considerably in complexity from the relatively simple to the ‘ultra-wicked’. For educators, developing these problem-solving skills in students can be challenging as their students may be on steep personal learning curves “academically, socially, emotionally, physically and morally.”
In terms of fostering critical thinking, which “is the foundation of all knowledge work,” has become important because:
“With the rise of social media resulting in the unregulated proliferation of misinformation, people need to have critical thinking skills to assess the source of the information and its likely validity.”
For creativity, it is about using approaches “to stretch the boundaries of conventional practice” because, in today’s world, “we face many unfamiliar challenges that demand new paradigms and unusual solutions.”
So, how do you teach soft skills?
According to the paper, this process includes a range of approaches. These include using:
Role plays: by asking students to prepare a role-play on a specific problem, and then discuss the implications and outcomes,
Practical workshops: using workshops under the direction of an experienced teacher give students’ real-life examples of how to overcome a complex problem,
Reflective practices: these can be used when teaching a lesson and afterwards reflecting on the success of that lesson, and
Student journals: this process can encourage students to record their experiences and examples of observed good practice. Reviewing and reflecting on this content will assist in their development of understanding of developing these key skills and capabilities.