Manilka Ediriweera enumerates the value of soft skills in the workplace

In life, all of us have to go through transitions especially in the evolving modern job landscape where people are required to reinvent themselves to pursue multiple career paths. These transitions could occur from one job or industry to another.

These changes aren’t always voluntary and may be forced processes. Regardless, to thrive instead of merely surviving these transitions, it’s essential to have specific skills that will enable workers to adapt to various contexts.

And such talents that are portable between various situations and contexts are referred to as ‘transferable skills.’ These include ‘soft’ versions such as life skills and key competencies, as well as socioeconomic and employability talents.

These refer to the kinds of expertise that we acquire through our life and work experiences, and can be technical talents such as basic ICT skills – or nontechnical ones such as social skills.

Examples include fundamental skills (literacy); people related skills (teamwork, leadership and communication); con­ceptualising skills (planning, decision making and problem solving); emotional skills (empathy and self-awareness); and other skills such as creativity and innovation. These are the skills that people need to have in any job, industry or situation.

Such capabilities aren’t confined to a specific occupation or business, and translate across various careers and industries. For example, no matter what role you play in work or life, you can use leadership skills to act efficiently and effectively in different situations.

Transferable skills, therefore, enable individuals to be agile, adapt to various contexts and wear multiple hats as they transition from one role or profession to another, and face challenges along the way.

However, with the rise in demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, the emphasis placed on hard or technical skills has risen. The importance given to transferable skills has declined. This is mainly because transferable or soft skills create an impression that they are less important than ‘hard’ ones.

But the truth is that while we build strong technical skills, it’s equally important to refine our transferable talents too. This is because soft skills have been proven to improve productivity and efficiency – also, they never go out of style.

Even amidst the growing demand for technical talent, employers still look for transferable skills especially due to the evolving nature of the business world. While hard skills facilitate your accomplishment of specific technical tasks, transferable talents provide you with the ability to get the job done. Therefore, it’s safe to say that soft skills are essential and a combination of both types of talents would be a winner.

In a 2018 report by management consulting firm McKinsey, it was revealed that the next decade would see an increase in the need for transferable skills. The same report revealed that there was a difficulty in finding transferable skills such as critical thinking, innovation, creativity and communication in potential employees.

Possessing soft skills indicates your value as an individual outside a core competency or work field. These boost your employability and make you stand out from the crowd.

Imagine a situation in which you are looking to progress to a greater role or transitioning to a new industry but don’t quite possess the requisite degree of technical skills. However, you have more and better transferable skills than the other potential candidates. Possession of these skills will indicate your capability to get things done despite not being a perfect candidate for the position and thereby boost your employability.

This is precisely why you must cultivate your transferable skills – and the first step in developing these would be to become familiar with or be aware of your talents and capabilities. After that, you can identify the skills you need to improve on and/or develop, and seek ways to work on them.

Sparing a few minutes to identify and develop these skills will help add value, and make you stand out from the crowd to prospective employers by showcasing these talents as selling points.

It’s not news that the business world is constantly changing. In such a dynamic space, you can only survive by having the necessary transferable skills that will enable you to adapt and function productively and effectively.

In other words, transferable skills can simply make or break one’s career. This was the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic and with the crises we are facing now, it will continue to be true.

In these unprecedented times, the ultimate choice of any employer would be to hire people who can handle whatever their job throws at them and navigate a way forward through the chaos.