By Chitralekha Narayan
As India becomes a larger and vital player in the global economy, as we become a larger outsourcing/offshoring destination for companies world wide, soft skills will give us the winning edge.
In today's corporate environment, much emphasis is laid on ‘soft skills.’ What are ‘soft skills’? What is their importance to the individual or to the company? Why does one need it? How does one acquire it? Let us explore and understand this often used but misunderstood set of skills.
In every industry, a worker brings two aspects to the table - his technical skills and his soft skills. For example, a television technician knows how to mend a TV. He also has rudimentary skills on how to deal with the customer. His technical expertise stems from his technical skills. His customer interaction skills stems from his soft skills. In other words, the softer aspects of one's job requirements can be broadly classified as soft skills.
Master & Internalise
Basic ‘soft skills’ generally include communication skills, social graces, presentation skills, customer service, etc. Some of the high end soft skills may include dining etiquette, stress management and cross cultural sensitivity.
It is interesting to note that these are often skills that take a longer time to master and internalise. They are also difficult to measure. Keen and long term observation in various situations will probably help somewhat quantify the soft skills in an employee.
The soft skills can be further divided into two sections - life skills and business skills. Life skills are those soft skills that largely rest in the individual. He or she will carry it with them to their graves!
For example, communication skills, once mastered, will serve a person in every aspect of his life. He will be a better and effective communicator in his workplace, with his family, and with his friends.
Similarly, stress management will be beneficial to an individual in dealing with stress in the workplace or at home. Simple breathing exercises can be used to de-stress whether at work, or at home, or after a workout at the gym, etc. Business skills are those skills that one needs to navigate successfully through the corporate world. For example, effective decision making skills, delegation skills, conflict management skills, or team building skills are critical for new as well as seasoned leaders.
Its a must, not a fancy
Thus, ‘soft skills’ are significant for both the individual and the company. Nasscom estimates that by 2010, both the IT and ITeS sectors’ workforce would have increased from 700,000 to 2.3 million.
As one of the McKinsey reports state, “India confronts a potential shortage of skilled workers in the next decade, despite its having an adequate talent pool or ‘raw material,’ yet the problem is that this talent pool is largely unsuitable.” Why? The answer is that they are technically qualified but they don't know how to position their superiority. The more soft skills that an individual exhibits, the greater and faster his career growth. When a batch of fresh computer engineering graduates are recruited by a company, the entire batch is on a level playing ground.
All of them are junior software engineers. They have been selected largely because of their academic performance and their technical expertise. How then does the differentiation happen in terms of promotions? It happens one, based on the work deliverables but it also is hinged upon the intangible ‘soft skills’ that the person exhibits.
For example, the person who is able to successfully communicate with his American counterpart, who is assertive and negotiates a win-win, will get more chances to not only interact across cultures but will be chosen if there is an opportunity for an overseas assignment. Hence today, companies like Athiya, work very closely with all leading companies in various sectors, helping them identify their soft skills requirements and training their personnel to be the best in their industry.
It is highly evident that companies focus not only on ‘what’ but the ‘how’. It is no longer acceptable for an employee to send a report, it is extremely critical as to ‘how’ it has been drafted.
Training, constant observation, practice, internalisation, and soliciting feedback are sure ways to acquiring these soft skills. In a soft skills training session, concepts are downloaded and simulations are provided with extensive feedback. The participant then needs to continuously practice some of these skills to internalise them so that they become a part of his/her natural self. Peer feedback and observing a role model enhance these skills.
As India becomes a larger and vital player in the global economy, as we become a larger outsourcing/offshoring destination for companies world wide, soft skills will give us the winning edge. If we need to beat a China, we better brush up on our English language skills, our clarity of communication, and our customer interaction skills, or we might just turn out to be another ‘has been.’
The softer aspects of one’s job requirements can be broadly classified as soft skills.
The more soft skills that an individual exhibits, the greater and the faster his career growth.
Training, constant observation, practice, internalization, and soliciting feedback are sure ways to acquiring these soft skills.
This article was published in 'Deccan Herald' on 30th July, 2008.
The writer is a co-founder and Director - Learning & Development at Athiya Organizational Competencies (P) limited. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org