Develop This Quality First, and Your Soft Skills Will Follow
Employers know they can train up their employees in the hard skills needed in their industry. What they can’t teach are the soft skills like attitude, communication, and leadership. Industries across Canada frequently vocalize their challenges in recruiting top talent, and the absence of soft skills is a reoccurring theme in the past decade. Industry Analyst Josh Berlin confirms that 80% of companies struggle to find candidates with adequate soft skills in the current market. A key reason for this is the difficulty in teaching people soft skills. Universities and colleges don’t often make space in their curriculum to help the next generation learn these skills and creating effective training models requires very specific expertise. If professional and personal development is a priority for you—and I urge you to make it one! —you’ll have to take a step back and evaluate one key area before you can hope to improve your soft skills.
The precursor to soft skills is Emotional Intelligence (EQ). According to the National Soft Skills Association, your EQ skills “form the base of competencies that all soft skills are built upon”. A big part of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand other peoples’ motivations and behaviours. Without this, skills like teamwork, leadership, and persuasion become almost impossible. Empathy is a critical component of Emotional Intelligence that many people mistakenly think is an innate quality—something you either have or don’t. There are different forms of empathy, with cognitive empathy being the most relevant for professional development. Most people can improve their ability to empathize– it’s a lifelong developmental process that requires willingness!
The other key element of Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate. This is where soft skills like receiving guidance, staying focused, being flexible, and maintaining professional integrity come from. These are the qualities employers desperately seek and often don’t find in today’s job market. With the current focus on technology and fears of automation replacing jobs, soft skills are actually becoming more in-demand and more scarce. This is often a surprise to those who are devoting their learning to technical skills like engineering and computing.
The National Soft Skills Association finds that most people mistakenly leave improving their EQ up to chance, hoping that time and experience will lead to a high EQ. In the Career Services department, we know that EQ and soft skills don’t magically evolve on their own. Receiving feedback and deliberate practice are key to improving your core EQ competencies, so we’re bringing in EQ expert Geoff Frost on November 7th to offer a training session on the subject to help get BCIT students on track with their soft skills development. There are other supports at BCIT that can help you prioritize this part of your career readiness such as the BCITSA Leadership Development programs and BCIT’s Counselling and Student Development department. Making soft skills development a priority will set you apart in your career ambitions, but plan to start with enhancing your EQ for a solid professional development foundation.