In a progressively interconnected and dynamic world, the importance of having a balance of both hard and soft skills has become increasingly more evident. So, what is the difference between these two types of skills?
Insight Global defines the difference clearly: “Soft skills are those skills that come naturally and uniquely to everyone. These include leadership, effective communication, teamwork, time management, motivation and adaptability. On the other hand, hard skills are those that are gained through hands-on experience, training, or education. For example, hard skills include things like accounting, Microsoft Excel, typing, copywriting, or computer programming.”
While technical expertise and academic achievements are undoubtedly valuable, it is the mastery of soft skills that truly sets individuals apart and paves the way for their future success. Author, workplace expert and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek says, “Let’s stop using the term “soft skills”. There is nothing soft about them. Let’s call them what they really are — human skills.” And there is no better time to start developing these skills than during the formative years of adolescence.
Youngsters, standing at the threshold of adulthood, face a multitude of challenges as they transition into the real world. It is not just about academic prowess anymore; employers and higher education institutions alike are seeking candidates who possess a well-rounded skill set that encompasses communication, collaboration, adaptability, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence.
Jo-burg-based Psychologist, Steven Sawyer, explains: “Soft skills are often regarded as the ‘secret sauce’ that propels individuals towards professional and personal triumph. They provide a foundation upon which adolescents can build fruitful relationships, navigate complexities, and thrive in the face of uncertainty.
Moreover, in an era dominated by rapid technological advancements and automation, the cultivation of soft skills becomes increasingly vital, as they will empower the youth to leverage their unique talents and stay ahead in a competitive job market when they get older. By understanding the transformative potential of soft skills, we can equip teenagers with the tools necessary to succeed in both their personal and professional lives.”
Steven notes that the best soft skills for teenagers to develop vary depending on their individual aspirations and areas of interest. However, he points out that there are several key soft skills that are universally beneficial and can greatly enhance any young adult’s future prospects, including:
Effective communication is crucial for building relationships, expressing ideas, and collaborating with others. And although today’s tweens and teens communicate in more ways than any other generation in history, good communication skills goes beyond just phone dialogue. It entails knowing when to ask for help, making small talk, being able to express themselves in a clear and concise manner during face-to-face interactions, making eye contact, being an active listener, and being able to regulate themselves eg controlling emotions in a disagreement.
Tweens and teens can enhance their communication skills by seeking opportunities to engage in group discussions, debates, or public speaking activities. Joining clubs, participating in theatre or debate programs, and taking communication-focused courses can help contribute to development in this area. As a parent, role-playing conversations and scenarios can be an invaluable way of developing your child’s communication skills.
- Flexibility and teamwork
The ability to work well with others is essential in today’s team-oriented work environments. The knack of being able to easily “shift gears” will help your child to be a great team player. Team sports is a wonderful place to hone this skill, but honestly, any group activity can help youngsters learn about navigating relationships and collaboration. These include the likes of engaging in group projects, volunteering for team-based activities, and participating in extracurricular activities that require cooperation and coordination.
Encouraging adolescents to actively contribute, respect diverse perspectives, and resolve conflicts constructively will also foster their collaboration skills. It is also important for parents to constructively show their children the importance of accepting and valuing ideas that aren’t necessarily their own. Making the realisation that they aren’t always right can be humbling for your child, but it will help open them up to new methods and ways of accomplishing a goal that they haven’t thought of.
- Adaptability and risk-taking
In a rapidly changing world, adaptability and the ability to take calculated risks is a crucial skill for future success. Although this soft skill does sound like a scary one, especially in lieu of the fact that your child’s frontal cortex has not fully developed yet – at this stage in their lives, tweens and teens need to assert their independence and try new things. The key is to help them understand the difference between a risk and a calculated risk – you need to show them how to think things through and weigh up the odds. You also want to let them know that as their parent, you will always be there to help them pick up the pieces if anything should go wrong.
Adolescents can cultivate this skill by embracing new challenges, seeking opportunities outside their comfort zones, and being open to learning from experiences. Encouraging them to take on different roles, explore various hobbies or interests, travel and develop a growth mindset, will contribute to their adaptability.
- Problem solving and resilience
The ability to identify and solve problems creatively is highly valued skill today. Problem-solving goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking. It encourages teenagers to question assumptions, evaluate information objectively, and consider multiple perspectives. By honing this soft skill, your child will be able to make informed decisions, solve complex problems and develop a deeper understanding of the world around them. Teens can develop problem-solving skills by engaging in critical thinking exercises, puzzles, and brain-teasers. Parents can help by encouraging them to analyse situations, propose solutions, and learn from failures.
Problem solving can help youngsters develop resilience and empower them to become more independent and self-reliant. It equips them with the ability to overcome obstacles, make informed decisions, and take responsibility for their actions. By developing problem-solving skills, your child will become more confident, resilient and proactive in navigating the complexities of life.
- Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognise, understand and manage your own emotions, as well as to effectively perceive and respond to the emotions of others. It involves a set of skills and competencies that enable individuals to navigate social interactions, build and maintain relationships, and make decisions with emotional awareness and sensitivity. These skills include self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills, and motivation.
Emotional intelligence is considered a vital ingredient for interpersonal effectiveness, leadership, and personal wellbeing. By developing emotional intelligence, tweens and teens can cultivate stronger and more meaningful relationships, enhance their decision making abilities, and create positive and harmonious environments.
Teens can develop emotional intelligence by practicing self-awareness, recognising and expressing their emotions, and developing empathy through volunteering or community service. Encouraging your children to actively listen and respond empathetically to others’ perspectives and emotions will also contribute to their emotional intelligence.