The Importance of Soft Skills: Education beyond academic knowledge Bernd Schulz Polytechnic of Namibia Abstract
This paper makes a survey of the importance of soft skills in students’ lives both at college and after college. It discusses how soft skills complement hard skills, which are the technical requirements of a job the student is trained to do. The paper exhorts educators to take special responsibility regarding soft skills, because during students’ university time, educators have major inﬂuence on the development of their students’ soft skills. Embedding the training of soft skills into hard skills courses is a very effective and efﬁcient method of achieving both an attractive way of teaching a particular content and an enhancement of soft skills. Soft skills fulﬁl an important role in shaping an individual’s personality. It is of high importance for every student to acquire adequate skills beyond academic or technical knowledge.
For decades employers as well as educators frequently complain about a lack in soft skills among graduates from tertiary education institutions. Predominantly missed are communication skills, but additional knowledge in business or project management is also ranking highly on the list of missing skills desirable for graduates entering the business world. This problem is in no way restricted to developing nations like Namibia; it is also well known to industrial countries around the world. A recent outcry in this regard came from the British Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), which recently reported that “Employers say many graduates lack ‘soft skills’, such as team working” and “They go on to explain that candidates are normally academically proﬁcient but lacking in soft skills such as communication as well as verbal and numerical reasoning.” (AGR, 2007) Already more than 40 years ago the German Engineering Association (VDI) recommended that 20% of courses of the engineering curricula should be soft skills. Engineering graduates should bring along knowledge of foreign languages, cultural awareness, should be team workers, and should perhaps have attended a Rhetoric course (Ihsen, 2003). And indeed, the situation seems to be particularly bad in science and engineering programmes. Comparing the levels of soft skills between a ﬁctitious graduate of Mechanical Engineering and a graduate of History of Arts, both freshly coming from university, the German Professor Dietrich Schwanitz rated the mechanical engineer at the level of a caveman (Schwanitz, 1999:482). Obvious Bernd Schulz is a Senior Lecturer at the Polytechnic of Namibia, holding a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. He is currently engaged in research for his Ph.D. thesis at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany. After 16 years in industry, working in Germany as well as in Asian and African countries, he joined the Polytechnic of Namibia in 2000 where he teaches Information Technology up to graduate level. Being confronted with the enormous learning problems that most IT students experience during their ﬁrst year at the Polytechnic, Mr Schulz developed a keen interest in improving teaching methodologies and in the training of soft skills. E-mail: email@example.com
NAWA Journal of Language and Communication, June 2008
reasons are that non-scientiﬁc academic programmes in general put more emphasise onto soft skills, or they are themselves by nature very soft skill related. The English scientist and novelist C.P. Snow basically established this fact in his acclaimed speech titled “The Two Cultures”, in which he deﬁned but at the same time regretted the separation of liberal education into a philosophical-humanistic hemisphere and a technical-scientiﬁc hemisphere, where the former is perceived as superior (Snow, 1968).
What are soft skills?
Before going any further...