Australian Institute of Soft Skills Training

4 min read

Why soft skills are essential for university graduate success

25/04/2019 2:42:00 PM

Two employers checking curriculum vitae of new candidate

Most university graduates enter the job market full of energy and enthusiasm; only to find that the employment market, and the expectations of employers are very different to what they expected. Soft skills, often overlooked in the undergrad curriculum, are emerging as the must-have skills for graduate success. How do you stack up?

New graduates discover that in many cases, a degree is no longer the guarantee of employability that it once was, and that discipline-related credentials and skills alone are no longer enough.

In November 2017, the ABC reported that “only 71% of graduates secure a job straight out of uni, and 15% are still unemployed four years after graduating”.

As Innes Willox, chief executive of Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) recently told the Sydney Morning Herald, “Employers care more about whether a graduate can knuckle down at work, fit with a culture, than which university a student attended or what marks they achieved”.

Ask employers about the skills they need, and you’ll often hear about a marked absence of well-developed soft skills.

Sometimes called real skills or human skills, soft skills are a blend of skills that include creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence. They are the human skills that help us to work and create together. While soft skills might sound relatively common, employers see their absence is a real issue.

The catch is that many graduates aren’t well equipped with these skills. According to Hay Group, “80 per cent of business leaders and HR directors struggle to find graduates with the soft skills they need” – a viewpoint supported by Willox; “graduates' self-management skills, initiative and problem-solving skills and teamwork skills top the list of employer concerns”.

It’s a global problem. In the UK, the findings of a parliamentary report about the absence of soft skills in the workforce prompted the Backing Soft Skills movement to lift awareness of the economic value of soft skills. This report found that “97% of UK employers believe soft skills are important to their current business success, and over 50% say skills like communication and teamwork are more important than traditional academic results”. The same report also stated that “by 2020, more than 535,000 UK workers will be significantly held back by a lack of soft skills – an issue forecast to affect all sectors.”

And the pressure is on closer to home. Deloitte Access Economics forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.

But it’s not the graduate’s fault.

In prior years, graduates had time to develop their soft skills in the workplace. Many professions also had entry levels that allowed graduates to use their hard skills while learning the social and cultural ropes. Those days are gone.

The progressive automation of many of those entry-level tasks along with the need for businesses of all sizes to be agile means that staff will need to arrive equipped with the skills necessary to adapt quickly. For graduates, this means entering the workplace equipped with the skills necessary to adapt, connect and collaborate.

No one has time

Universities and TAFES, under increasing pressure to compress more and more content into the curriculum, must remain focused on hard skills. Employers, under pressure to adapt quickly, do not have time to provide informal, on-the-job soft skills training.

The result is that graduates get caught in the middle.

So how do graduates develop their soft skills

The first step is for the employers to realise that the role of developing soft skills has tangible commercial benefits, and there is an upside for those businesses or individuals who choose to undertake soft skills training.

According to a 2017 Forbes Magazine article, “soft skills training, like communication and problem-solving, boosts productivity and retention 12 percent and delivers a 250 percent return on investment”.

The second is to acknowledge that graduates, eager to put their new qualifications into action (and to pay off their HECS debts) don’t have the time or resources at the end of a degree to go back to uni or engage in long-term study to develop their soft skills.

For this reason, we favour short, practical courses (1 and 2 days) that use real world examples instead of theory so that our participants can get back to work quickly and put what they learn into immediate action. 

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