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Value Of Soft Skills In The Labour Market

while it is cliché to say that ‘practice makes perfect’, I think it is more important to note that ‘practice also makes permanent’!

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Recently, Cathy Davidson, an American Scholar in a post, shed light on a surprising fact on 21st-century skills needed by today’s students and it came from of all places, Google, the ultimate preserve of hi-tech hiring, projects, and products. Google’s “Project Oxygen” in 2013, decided to test its very own hiring strategy by analyzing every bit of data of hiring, promotion, and firing since the firm’s founding in the late 1990s.  What emerged was a surprise to some, a shock to others, and a quiet vindication to yet others in the field.  The seven top characteristics of success at Google are the following – “being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others with different values and points of view); having empathy towards and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”   So, clearly, for an employee to have subject matter expertise or domain expertise while important but was not critical for advancement and taking on newer challenges at Google.   

If we reflect on these findings we should not be really surprised at the premium placed on ‘soft skills’.  The world today, dominated by the internet, machine learning, social media and abundant data, is changing all of our lives in profound and mundane ways.  While technology might dominate certain headlines, what cannot and should not escape our attention is the sheer scale and complexity of human-human interactions as we ‘travel’ longer distances both in “real and virtual” terms and come into contact with people of varied backgrounds and thoughts; and finally to add to this heady mix of technology and human interaction is the ever-present role played by Mother Nature --and its interactions with humans and technology.   In such a world, teachers at all levels (school and college) have a greater responsibility on how we prepare our students for this complex, complicated, connected, and the carbonized world.   

Google’s project underscores the fact that the current job market has gone beyond the simple acquisition of information and rather emphasizes the ability for an employee to be a quick thinker, ‘learn how to learn’, collaborate meaningfully, comprehend adeptly an ever-growing amount of data, information and knowledge, and communicate (oral and written) effectively in varying formats.   It is also not enough to simply have a course or two and consider that the student has met the criteria and “checked the proverbial box”.   Such values, skills, and precepts, that Google’s project and Cathy Davidson (and others) emphasize ought to be woven through a well-articulated program design, that introduces students to these ideas, not once, but multiple times and in differing contexts and settings so as to effectively make it second nature by the time the student is ready to graduate and enter the ‘real world’ of employment.  After all, while it is cliché to say that ‘practice makes perfect’, I think it is more important to note that ‘practice also makes permanent’!   

It is this author’s strong belief that a well-articulated program in the liberal arts and sciences gives a student the needed leverage to apply for jobs which focus on not just cognitive skills, but soft skills as well, giving a wide range of job opportunities to choose from.  Such an education program that prepares students to possess these values and skills, prepares them for not only being a productive employee in a variety of domains but also lead purposeful, meaningful lives.

* The Author is Vice Chancellor KREA University 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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