Ensuring graduates have soft skills

The EmPOWER programme is aimed at creating holistic graduates who are capable of enhancing their human capital, social capital, economic capital and emotional capital. — 123rf.comThe EmPOWER programme is aimed at creating holistic graduates who are capable of enhancing their human capital, social capital, economic capital and emotional capital. — 123rf.com

The challenge facing academic institutions is that “soft skills” are “hard” to develop and difficult to measure

HOW ready for work are our young people? A recently published Khazanah Research Institute report titled “School-to-Work Transition of Young Malaysians,” identified a number of mismatches between educational outcomes and employment market requirements.

“Employers rate soft skills and work experience above the academic and professional qualifications that are emphasised by Malaysian education and training institutions.”

The survey also found that “young people themselves recognise that academic qualifications are inadequate and acknowledge that they lack the soft skills and work experience that are necessary for getting a good job.”

Employers are seeking “soft” skills including “strong work ethics, good communication skills, creative and analytical thinking, challenge solving skills, acting as a team player, positive attitude, learning from criticism and working under pressure.”

The study went on to recommend the development of policies to encourage academic institutions to teach such skills.

The last two decades have seen increasing importance being placed on the development of soft skills. This has accelerated recently as an increasing number of cognitive-based technical tasks are being performed by computers and smart systems. This has left humans with what they can, supposedly, perform better than machines; soft skills.

The challenge facing academic institutions is that “soft skills” are “hard” to develop and difficult to measure.

The current education system was born after the first industrial revolution and is based on the factory and standardisation techniques where students are taught, in relatively large groups, standard materials and are tested using the same exam papers.

Addressing this challenge requires new and innovative thinking that examines how we define education and measure students’ educational success. This will start by recognising each student as a unique individual with a unique potential and different talents, needs and capabilities.

The other aspect of the challenge of developing soft skills is that they exist within the realm of “tacit knowledge”, ie knowledge that can only be acquired experientially, requiring a high level of motivation and self-awareness on the side of the students, and demanding a very different style of teaching and delivery by universities.

At Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, we have developed a structured programme to build soft, employability and life skills in all our students. The programme, which we have named EmPOWER takes the students into a four-stage developmental journey of knowing and leading self, leading teams, leading communities and leading enterprise.

The programme has six domains, namely

1. Global Citizenship, Leadership and Impact;

2. Emotional Intelligence, Resilience and Happiness;

3. People Skills;

4. Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity;

5. Critical Thinking and Decision Making; and

6. Employability and Industrial Relevance.

The programme is aimed at creating holistic graduates who are capable of enhancing their human capital, social capital, economic capital and emotional capital. Students work with their personal tutors and the EmPOWER programme instructors on personalised projects and learning experiences to develop their soft skills alongside other necessary technical and academic skills.

The acquisition of the soft and life skills is documented and certified using the “EmPOWER Transcript” that every student will receive together with their academic transcript.

This both cultivates self-awareness among the students and provides employers with an evidence-based record of the attainment of these skills.

The “School-to-Work Transition of Young Malaysians” study also found that “while employers use online advertisements and informal networks to recruit the workers they need, young people look for jobs through public employment services, job fairs or open interviews.

Informal recruitment channels can have cost-saving advantages but penalise poor, disadvantaged job seekers who have limited social networks and also restrict the selection pool of employers.

The mismatch of job search and recruitment methods clearly affects the smooth functioning of the labour market.”

The EmPOWER programme addresses this through encouraging and supporting students to build strong networks and enhance their social capital throughout their years at the university, given the strong links between networks and employment.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution with its continuous disruption of the job market is here to stay. More jobs and tasks that are cognitive and technical by nature will be automated.

It makes sense that our policies, our institutions and our business organisations shift their human development goals towards growing the “human skills” that machines are unable to perform. This is the only sure way to future proof humanity.

The economist Thomas Sowell said: “Life does not ask what we want. It presents us with options.”

by PROF MUSHTAK AL-ATABI
Read more @
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2019/01/20/ensuring-graduates-have-soft-skills/#u7SOv5PRaF7b5orU.99

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