Youth unemployment has been the subject of many news articles over the last couple of years, and many of these reports state that two of the key reasons why young people are struggling to find suitable jobs after graduation are a poor level of English and a lack of soft skills. Employers today are paying more and more attention to soft skills, sometimes also referred to as 21st century skills, but the term is often interpreted differently by different people.
Essentially, soft skills refer to both character traits and interpersonal skills that will influence how well a person can work or interact with others. If that sounds a rather large and vague area, that’s because it is, and the term soft skills covers a wide spectrum of skills as diverse as creativity, time management, problem solving and emotional intelligence. In fact, the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report last year suggested that by 2020, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and emotional intelligence would be among the most important skills required in the workplace.
School leavers and university graduates may feel concerned that obtaining good academic qualifications and learning easily measured hard skills (for example, writing skills, how to use certain software, knowledge of accounting, etc.) is no longer enough to secure a job. Now, they will also need to demonstrate a number of soft skills in order to succeed in the workplace. However, there are ways to work on developing such skills while doing other activities. For example, enrolling on an English course in a language school that uses modern communicative teaching will give students the opportunity to develop certain soft skills as they learn.
During speaking activities, students are often encouraged to react to the person speaking and ask questions to keep the conversation moving, both of which are useful active listening techniques. Also many classroom activities involve students working in pairs or groups and this provides the opportunity to collaborate effectively with others, practise turn-taking or negotiation. Furthermore, given that many classroom activities require tasks to be completed within a certain time limit, students will get the chance to work on time management.
Emotional intelligence is all about understanding your emotions and those of the people around you and also the ability to manage emotions. In today’s world, the way we communicate is more important than ever, and we need to be able to understand how people feel about things using clues from either body language or the choice of words. In the English classroom, students can practise this by paying attention to the tone of voice, facial expressions and so on.
The English classroom may also often involve discussion or essay writing activities. Sometimes in these activities, students are asked to give their opinion on certain topics and support this opinion with evidence or ideas. This kind of activity allows students to develop both their critical thinking skills and confidence in expressing opinions. Alternatively students may be asked to suggest a solution to an issue, which allows them to work on problem solving skills.
There is no escaping the fact that young people are going to need to be more flexible and open to life-long learning as the demands of the workplace change. Choosing to study a face-to-face English course at the British Council can help them both improve their competence in English and also develop some of the soft skills necessary to increase their employability and maximise future career pathways.