When it comes to finding a job, soft skills are incredibly useful for any kind of profession. To understand what a soft skill is, it’s easier to picture it in relation to hard skills.
Hard skills refer to specific technical knowledge and training. Think mobile development, marketing and campaign management, or user interface design. Soft skills, on the other hand, are more intangible and rooted to individual’s characteristics and interpersonal skills. Having good time management skills or being a “team player” are examples of soft skills.
While hard skills are often a requirement for different fields, soft skills are essential if you want to thrive in the workplace. And the reason is simple: soft skills make you easier to work with and more capable of achieving strategic tasks.
Look at it this way: if you were applying for a job and were competing with others who have similar technical skills, then the one who displays the most developed soft skills will likely be hired.
According to the Hays Asia Salary Guide 2019, the top soft skills that employers in Singapore seek are problem-solving (81%), team working (80%), and verbal communication (74%). The least sought were negotiation abilities (25%), time management (45%), and flexibility (47%).
While Singapore employers tend to favour hard skills over soft skills, there is still a strong emphasis on the need to have both. Grant Torrens, regional director of Hays Singapore, said that soft skills “complement even the deepest of knowledge and widest breadths of experience.”
Soft skills are also becoming more important in an increasingly globalised world. As workplaces become more diverse, employees will need to work in evolving, adaptable environments.
Traditionally, soft skills were not taught in universities or companies. It was up to the employee to proactively develop their soft skills throughout their on-the-job experiences. Your traineeship, for example, would be a good place to start.
But since the pandemic, many leaders are making use of the downtime to train their workforce. According to the NTUC LearningHub’s Employer Skills Survey, around 36% of employers are either upskilling or redeploying their workers across departments. The top training priority for those who have chosen to train their employees is to improve their soft skills (65%).
What are some important soft skills to have in 2020?
COVID-19 has turned the world on its head and accelerated changes in the workplace. In Singapore, the majority companies have implemented remote work setups since the announcement of a nationwide circuit breaker. And many expect remote work will remain even after the crisis has abated.
That means the soft skills you should be picking up need to be relevant to this new era of working.
#1: Flexibility and adaptability
No doubt COVID-19 threw a curveball our way. It’s proof that change can happen in an instant and that we must be prepared to bounce back and adapt fast.
For many of us, this will be the first time we work in a purely remote setting. Those who were able to transfer their core competencies from an office setting into a remote one are those who exhibit adaptability.
It sounds simple, but big changes like the shift to remote work require a lot of effort and re-learning. From being able to tap teammates on the shoulder, you need to be able to understand that you can’t get immediate answers in a remote setting. You will also have to make use of digital work trackers and virtual project management tools.
It’s a lot of work but being able to accept these changes will make you and your company more resilient in the face of crises.
#2: Communication and writing skills
While communication skills are a coveted soft skill in any line of work, they are taking the centre stage in today’s world. Since people can’t meet face-to-face, employees need to be able to express ideas and relay instructions in a clear, concise manner with the communication tools available.
In other words, you need to master the art of writing emails, texts, and even chats.
According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 73.4% of employers want a candidate with strong written communication skills. There are a few reasons behind this. First, clear writing is a sign of clear thinking—if candidates know what to put in and what to omit from their emails, then he or she can reduce miscommunications and errors and maintain good relationships even from afar.
This soft skill is going to be useful as the world continues to globalise. Even if you aren’t working remotely, chances are you’ll be interacting with clients or partners from all over the world. The ability to get your message across or build relationships through text will be that much more important.
It’s not just managers that exhibit the characteristics of a leader. You can too.
Being a leader means being able to make decisions, solve problems, teach and mentor others. Employees who show leadership are those who are more self-reliant, productive, and influential, especially in a remote setting.
When you’re working from home, there’s no one there looking over your shoulder and making sure that you’re productive eight hours a day. It’s up to you to be proactive in sharing your ideas, making sure your projects carried out smoothly, and taking ownership of your role within the organisation.
As a trainee, this means you need to reach out to others who may need assistance instead of waiting for instructions to be sent your way. And since no one is there to see all the good work you’re doing, you need to be the one to show the results.
#4: Creativity and innovation
The workplace isn’t the only thing that’s changed since the start of the pandemic. Consumer behaviour and everyday lifestyles have changed as well. To adapt to these changes on a strategic level, you need to have the creativity to think outside of the box and solve problems in a different way.
Being creative will allow you to brainstorm new ideas, think critically, and remain open-minded to new possibilities. Creativity is also what paves the way to innovation.
As we brace ourselves for change, we need to be able to move with the tide and find new ways of doing things.
Empathy is the ability to recognise and understand the feelings and emotions of others and put yourself in their shoes. Having empathy allows you to communicate with others better, be more self-aware, and helps you become a better team player.
Having empathy is more important now than ever. The pandemic has not been kind to us and has resulted in almost 57,000 cumulative casesand thousands of job losses over the last few months. You never know what a teammate is going through during these troubling times.
Plus, it’s much more difficult to read another person in a remote setting. How can you tell how a person is feeling just by their chats and emails? And what can you do to make work less difficult for them?
Simply having the empathy and be considerate of the struggles faced by others can help improve morale and contribute to a more caring environment.
How do you get soft skills?
There are a few courses on developing soft skills, but we find that the best teacher is experience.
Unlike hard skills, soft skills are similar to emotions—they can be honed and developed as you have more interactions with others and face certain challenges. One of the most effective ways to develop your soft skills is by working in different roles in your company. This will expose you to different environments, team dynamics, and leadership styles.
Of course, you shouldn’t just aimlessly develop all the soft skills that you can manage. You need to be intentional as well about which soft skills you have and which you need to work on more. For example, if you want to develop your email communication skills, you can ask the team you’ll be working with, whether they can copy you into emails with teammates or clients. If you want to develop your video conferencing skills, you can request to sit in and take notes for important meetings.
From there, it’s all about absorbing the best practices through observations. You can even make suggestions as to how current SOPs can be improved.
Don’t be worried if you make mistakes—each mistake is a learning experience.
Another way to develop your soft skills is to take courses online. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and even LinkedIn Learningoffer an array of courses, some of which are targeted toward developing your soft skills.
And if hour-long courses don’t sound appealing to you, there are dozens of productivity-related blogs, videos, and podcasts available to help you learn in bite-sized chunks.
Best of luck on your traineeship
There’s a reason employers value candidates with more job experiences—because they have likely picked up the soft skills to work well with teams, solve difficult problems, and move the company forward. This traineeship is a valuable opportunity to pick up soft skills you can apply in any field of work.
If you’d like to discuss soft skills with fellow trainees, come join the Young NTUC SGUnited Traineeship Network. It’s a great place for you to network, share experiences, and access resources to help you in your traineeship journey.
You can join our Facebook group and Telegram channelfor regular updates about the latest workshops for fresh graduates, career resources, job opportunities and more! If you need any help with your career or your current traineeship, you can seek for support with Young NTUC.