People Or Soft Skills - The Most Important Skills For Careers

Dr. Purushothaman
December 7, 2013

It's always great to see students study hard to get good grades, which in turn will help guarantee a bright future academically and for career. It will enable graduates to get their foot in the door in the fields of their choice.

However, after more than twenty years working in the corporate world, I can say that grades and even technical skills do not determine how successful a person will be professionally. Instead, the most important factor that will determine how far one will go in career involves dealing with others, ie., people skills.

People skills are how effective one deals with many different types of individuals on a daily basis. The wider the range of others in terms of ages, cultures and company levels that one can deal with, the better that person's skill level.

It doesn't matter which field whether it's medicine, law, engineering, journalism, the arts, one of the trades or any other career as the most successful individuals in each area are not necessarily the ones who had the highest school grades or those who are the most technically gifted. Instead, the top stars in each field are the ones with the best people skills.

Unfortunately, people or 'soft' skills as they are sometimes known, are not usually taught in classrooms at any educational level. Many students who end up spending all their time and energy during their school years to maximize their grades do not end up learning to effectively interact with others, especially if not developed outside of the classroom. In effect, their development was unbalanced too much towards pure academics.

Once these individuals enter the workforce, they will soon realize that those with superior personal talents will end up moving up the corporate ladder faster as their competition gets promoted through the ranks past them. If they are lucky, after a few years of learning the hard way, these individuals will learn to develop much needed soft skills and hopefully, management will notice their improvement in social interactions at the office enough to warrant promotions.

However, most folks in this situation will not be so lucky. They are either too set in their ways to change or don't even recognize their own personal deficiencies. These individuals will have reached a ceiling in their fields relatively quickly in their careers.

The world, both corporate and non-corporate, desperately needs more leaders and this lack of leadership will not be filled anytime soon if the majority of the workforce is lacking in people skills. Fortunately, this problem can be addressed in two ways. For those already in the workforce, companies can utilize seminars and workshops as part of on-going professional education on these skills including diversity training. All management, current and potential candidates, should attend such development sessions. The result will be a much more efficient management which in turn will mean bigger profits.

The other way is to expose students at every level and as early as possible to principles of people skills. Schools in many areas are already become quite diverse so such additional development for students in this area will be a natural evolution. It just has to be made part of the regular educational system somehow, with external trainers and speakers if necessary. Of course, staff including teachers and professors should also be exposed to their own developmental workshops as well since they were most likely not given the opportunity during their own years as students for this type of training.

Parents also need to be educated so that they foster a more balanced development for their children. Academics are important but kids need to learn that soft skills are necessary too and parents should do everything they can to ensure training in this area is included.

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