- by Shirley Tham, CDAS(P), CCSP, DTM
There has been a lot of talk about reskilling and upskilling, in the context of preparing for the future world of work brought about by technology changing the way we work, a theme explored in our articles on becoming digitally fluent in IR4.0 and future-proofing your career. Most of such talk centers on technical skills related to preparation for particular job roles but if you add upskilling your soft skills to your career strategy, you can accelerate your career development!
A research report by McKinsey Global Institute (Jezard, 2018) highlighted the top three skill sets workers will need to secure the best careers for the future. Other than technological skills, the other in-demand skills are higher cognitive as well as social and emotional skills, which are part of soft skills. Soft skills are essential to career growth across numerous industries and “can optimise your technical skill set to achieve a more holistic and productive work ethic.” (Indeed, 2022)
Let’s take a closer look at what soft skills are and more importantly, how you can empower yourself to develop these skills:
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are abilities and attributes that enable us to work effectively with others. They help you navigate the challenges in your job and also form an integral part of your transferable skills set. This means that you can apply them to a variety of jobs, levels and industries. You can flexibly apply them when you are promoted or move laterally in the company or industry, as they are relevant for multiple roles or different job functions. For example, a sales engineer seeking a new role in UI/UX design will find it useful to highlight her problem-solving and client-management skills.
The following diagram, by no means exhaustive, classifies and give examples of soft skills:
Do also take a look at our post on some soft skills needed to navigate and thrive in large organisations.
How can you empower yourself to develop soft skills?
I’d like to share with you my framework for consistently developing your soft skills: C.O.A.C.H :
(i) C – Challenge
Given our busy lives, we need to focus our efforts. To prioritize the types of skills for development, select which soft skills are most important to you. Ask yourself:
● What is my goal? Do I want to prepare for a promotion, lateral movement, to do better in my current job, or some other goal?
● What are the soft skills needed in your current and desired job roles? Read the job description as hiring managers often search for skills specified when looking for suitable candidates so the need for training is reduced.
(ii) O –Options
Once you have shortlisted the skills, consider avenues for you to develop them. Develop a mix of formal and informal training and development:
● Enrol in physical and/or online courses to familiarize with key concepts for developing particular soft skills
● Join an association or committee or take on voluntary roles to work with people and practise the soft skills you want
For example, if you are an aspiring career practitioner or need coaching skills in your job, you can join CDAS  for its continuous improvement programmes as an associate member to develop specific coaching skills, such as its Career Facilitation Circles .
(iii) A – Act
Do something! As the saying goes, you can’t swim in a library.
Recall your school days – haven’t you taken a leap of faith at some point in time to join a CCA, worked as an intern or done something that have honed the ways you respond to situations, relate to people, or developed problem-solving skills? Time to replicate that, in an elevated and updated fashion of course.
You may need to narrow your focus though. For example, conflict resolution is a broad skill that can be further broken down into subcomponents such as listening attentively, empathy, perspective-taking, communicating assertively and persuasively, among other skills. Programmes such as CDAS’s Career Facilitation Circles offer micro-skills training.
(iv) C - Check
Do review regularly how you are progressing in your skills development. Collate feedback from people whom you regularly work or interact with to give objective feedback. You might also like to reflect on how consistently you have devoted your attention, time and energy on the programmes you enrolled in.
(v) H – Harvest
There’s a time for sowing, and there’s a time for harvesting. Time to put your newly-developed soft skills to the real test: at the workplace. Of course, you would have been applying what you learn, but you would only find fulfilment in your soft skills development by revisiting what made you embark on it in the first place: What is my goal ? Do I want to prepare for a promotion, lateral movement, to do better in my current job, or some other goal?
Remember Harry Truman's advice: imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. Do something today! Set the C.O.A.C.H framework in motion and see the effects on your soft skills development, or consult a career coach for a discussion.
Indeed Editorial Team (2022). What is the Importance of Soft Skills? (7 Key Reasons). Indeed. Retrieved from: https://au.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/importance-of-soft-skills
Jezard, A. (2018). The 3 Key Skill Sets for the Workers of 2030. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/the-3-skill-sets-workers-need-to-develop-between-now-and-2030/