Guest blog: The importance of soft skills in business education

In an era marked by unprecedented global connectivity and rapid technological advancement, the landscape of employability is undergoing a transformative shift. As the educational landscape evolves, the role of universities and business schools in nurturing future leaders becomes ever more critical. The rise of automation and artificial intelligence, AI, will transform job roles in various sectors and while automation may replace some tasks, soft skills will become even more valuable as they are what sets humans apart from machines.

In partnership with Marina Ibrahim, Founder of Globility Coaching, we look at the importance of equipping students in the higher and further education sectors with soft skills to enhance their future employability.

 Understanding soft skills

Soft skills refer to the non-technical, interpersonal, and personal attributes that enable individuals to work effectively in a professional environment. While technical skills are essential for specific job roles, soft skills are transferable across industries and are highly sought after by employers. Soft skills include communication, teamwork, adaptability, cultural competency, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, time management, and inclusive leadership, among others.

 Recent research supporting the importance of soft skills

Numerous studies have highlighted the impact of soft skills on employability and career success. A report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2023 on the Future of Jobs indicated that by 2025, analytical thinking, creative thinking, resilience, flexibility, agility, motivation, empathy, active listening and leadership would be among the top sought-after skills in the job market.

A report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) on ‘Competencies for a Career-Ready Workforce’ revised in 2021, highlighted 8 competencies out of which 7 are soft skills including career and self-development, communication, critical thinking,  equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism and teamwork..

Bridging the employability skills gap

While qualifications and technical proficiency have long been regarded as the foundation for future careers, students’ skills should be developed through a more holistic approach, focusing on soft skills, referred to as interpersonal skills. Among the five industry-relevant soft skills that employers consider as most critical but are not adequately met by candidates are: resilience and flexibility, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, communication, and creativity (according to the QS Global Employer Survey 2023 pictured above).

To source, retain, and develop talents as assets, employers use employability and career readiness as part of their talent development strategies. In a time of talent wars, it is crucial for universities and business schools to close the employer expectation gap and ensure that future employees are equipped with the right set of soft skills and can deliver high levels of performance, innovation, and the ability to succeed in the competitive world.

Communication: The core of collaboration

Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, stands at the heart of effective collaboration. The ability to convey ideas clearly, actively listen, and engage in constructive dialogue is pivotal for successful teamwork, networking, and professional relationships. Recent research by the World Economic Forum reaffirms the prominence of communication skills, predicting them to be in high demand well into 2025 and beyond.

Cultural diversity and inclusive leadership: Nurturing global competence

In an increasingly interconnected world, cultural diversity has become an invaluable asset. Universities and business schools play a pivotal role in fostering cultural intelligence (CQ) among students. In addition to empowering students to apply their international and intercultural experiences from studying abroad or from international student communities, a culture that promotes cross-cultural understanding and inclusive leadership practices can also serve as a catalyst for navigating the complexities of a global economy. Organisations increasingly recognise the value of leaders who can harness the strengths of diverse teams. Being able to lead inclusively promotes innovation and reflects awareness of the multifaceted dimensions of modern business.

 EDI: A commitment to a fair and inclusive workplace

The future of work is inherently tied to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Universities and business schools must address EDI not just as a concept, but as a commitment to equitable representation, providing equal opportunities for all. This commitment aligns with the evolving societal values and fosters an environment that mirrors the principles of fairness, open-mindedness, and respect.

Equipping students for the future: Soft skills and beyond

As the future approaches, the skill set demanded by employers is poised to change. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report identifies skills such as analytical thinking, innovation, resilience, and emotional intelligence as essential attributes for employability in 2025 and beyond. The ability to adapt and learn continuously, particularly in the face of technological advancements, is pivotal.

The QS Global Employer Survey 2023 supports these findings, citing the ability to work effectively in a team as the top soft skill for fostering collaboration, diversifying perspectives, and solving problems. It is closely followed by strong communication skills, problem-solving to enable effective decision-making and innovative solutions, as well as active learning to allow continuous improvement, adaptability, and staying relevant to a rapidly changing environment.

Conclusion: Shaping tomorrow’s leaders today

Universities and business schools must adopt an integrated approach to equip students with soft skills. An integrated curriculum that intertwines technical knowledge with soft skills development can significantly enhance students’ employability. This can take the form of additional workshops with a focus on effective communication, emotional intelligence, and cross-cultural collaboration using real-world scenarios and case studies to foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Learning should also highlight the value of cultural diversity, inclusivity, and EDI principles to equip students with the skills to manage and to work as part of diverse teams effectively.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of employability, universities and business schools have the unique opportunity to shape the leaders of tomorrow. By focusing on cultivating essential business skills—particularly soft skills, cultural diversity appreciation, inclusive leadership, and a commitment to EDI—educational institutions can empower graduates to thrive in an interconnected, dynamic world of work.

Want to learn more about the skills gap in business education? Read our report ‘The skills gap: What employers want from business school graduates’ to find out more about the soft skills and hard skills in demand from employers across the globe. 

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