by Dr. Ann Villiers
In a rapidly changing world, people of all ages need to understand what skills will enable them to adapt and succeed in whatever context the future brings.
There is a wealth of information available to help gain this knowledge, but care is needed in how these skills are described and grouped. Skill terms used include: employability, 21st century, transferable, core, STEM, tangible/intangible, technical/non-technical, generic, cognitive/non-cognitive, and soft/hard. With such a confusing range of over-lapping terms, it is not surprising that people have difficulty working out what skills they have and may need.
When categorizing skills, we are fond of using binaries: technical/non-technical; cognitive/non-cognitive; hard/soft. Apart from a lack of consistency in category definitions, there are several other problems with these binaries:
The most unhelpful skill terms are ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. Their use is widespread, as any Internet search shows. While ‘soft’ skills may seem like a convenient shorthand, the term is imprecise, inaccurate, and gender-biased. It’s time for career practitioners, researchers, teachers, academics, policy makers and consultancies to join the trend and stop using this incorrect and misleading term.
The term ‘soft’ skills is imprecise
What skills are categorized as ‘soft’ is a moveable feast, covering a diverse mix of important skills, attitudes and behaviors. Compare any skill grouping classified as ‘soft’ and you’ll find there is little consistency, other than to usually include communication and interpersonal skills. Skills chosen for such lists may be based on different rationales and selection can lack empirical validation. (See Mantione 2019, Green 2011, Oates 2002 for analyses of skill term deficiencies).
The term ‘soft’ skills is inaccurate
Typically, ‘soft’ is used to refer to communication and interpersonal skills, implying these skills are light-weight. Describing them as ‘non-technical’ or ‘intangible’ further implies, inaccurately, that they require little effort and no special knowledge. Communication covers a wide range of demanding abilities (Villiers, 2018) essential for many occupations, including those that require high levels of specialized, professional knowledge and know-how. These abilities include building rapport, questioning to build understanding, influencing, negotiating, networking, persuading, coaching and mediating, all heavy-weight skills that have a huge impact in the workplace.
There are few jobs that don’t involve other people and many a project fails due to human, rather than technical, factors. Most so-called technical jobs involve applying interpersonal skills. Success in a science career, for example, often requires developing fruitful collaborations, cultivating friendships with colleagues, mentoring students, and effectively communicating work at conferences and seminars.
So-called ‘soft’ skills are falsely contrasted with equally inaccurate ‘hard’ skills on the basis that the latter are observable, learnable and measurable, qualities claimed, inaccurately, as not shared by ‘soft’ skills. While learning how to make a presentation, write a report, chair a meeting, or negotiate a contract may differ from learning pre-flight procedures, or calculating how much weight a bridge can bear, these skills are still learnable, are challenging, and are observable. And if collaboration and communication are not teachable and learnable, why do we tell people they need these skills?
We do our clients a major disservice by using the flawed ‘hard’/’soft’ skills distinction. It perpetuates the false idea that there is little rigor in learning and applying emotional intelligence, persuasion, negotiation, and team leadership. It also fails to recognize that skills are interrelated and context-based. While we can theoretically distinguish cooperation from teamwork, in practice, teamwork won’t happen without some cooperation.
The term ‘soft’ skills is gender-biased
Career decision-making is a highly complex interaction of ideas and influences from multiple sources. Research confirms that children form gender-based ideas about careers early in life, and that the media feeds ideas about what work is suitable/unsuitable for women and men (Smith et al. 2012, NZ Council for Educational Research, National Education Union). So-called ‘soft’ skills are not the preserve of girls and women. They are not female or feminine skills. Nor are they less demanding than other skills. Everyone needs to build communication and interpersonal skills, regardless of career choice.
The term ‘soft’ skills is unprofessional
Terminology is part of a profession’s special knowledge. Carefully defined terminology standardizes communication, enables people in a profession to communicate consistently, reducing ambiguity and increasing clarity.
Many reports about skills are not written by qualified career practitioners. Adopting or repeating others’ use of ‘soft’ skills does not help to build professional recognition of the value of career practitioners and their services.
Given the investment we make in our profession and in acquiring the skills identified in our competencies, including interpersonal, counselling, coaching and client service skills, would we happily describe these as ‘soft’ skills? I think not.
Alternatives to using ‘soft’ skills
If students and job seekers are to understand what skills are in demand, career practitioners, researchers, teachers, and policy makers need to use accurate, consistent, professional skill terms. This means dropping the use of ‘soft’, as well as ‘hard’, skills.
Alternatives to using ‘soft’ skills are:
When discussing specific skills, use specific skill words, like communication skills, problem solving skills, interpersonal skills.
When grouping skills that relate to working with people, use social skills.
When a national program identifies a set of core or employability skills, avoid referring to these skills as ‘soft’ skills.
When discussing reports and research on skills, avoid adopting or repeating any use of ‘soft’ skills. Even saying “so-called ‘soft’ skills” keeps the term in circulation.
The more career practitioners around the world stop and reconsider their language, the more we will have consistent, accurate terminology that well serves our clients and profession.
Green, F (2011) What is Skill? An Inter-Disciplinary Synthesis published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at: http://www.llakes.org
Mantione, A (2019) Is this a skill which I see before me? The challenge of measuring skills shortages, LMI Insights Issue No 14, Labour Market Information Council, Canada: https://lmic-cimt.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/LMI-Insights-No-14-2-1.pdf
National Education Union, UK, Breaking the Mould: challenging gender stereotypes, https://www.teachers.org.uk/equality/equality-matters/breaking-mould
New Zealand Council for Educational Research, (2008), Report prepared for Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Trading Choices: Young people’s career decisions and gender segregation in the trades, https://women.govt.nz/sites/public_files/trading-choices-young-peoples-decisions-and-gender-segregation-in-the-trades.pdf
Oates, T (2003), ‘Key Skills/Key Competencies: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Current Initiatives’, in Definition and Selection of Key Competencies, Contributions to the Second DeSeCo Symposium 2002, Geneva, Switzerland, pp. 174-190, http://www.oecd.org/education/skills-beyond-school/41529505.pdf
Smith, Stacy L, PhD, Choueiti, Mark, Prescott, Ashley, & Pieper, Katherine PhD, (2012), Gender Roles & Occupations: A Look at Character Attributes and Job-Related Aspirations in Film and Television, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, https://seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/full-study-gender-roles-and-occupations-v2.pdf
Villiers, A, PhD (2018), More than 100 skills in communicating, https://www.selectioncriteria.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/100Communicationskills.pdf
Dr. Ann Villiers is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist, specialising in the sense-making process. She is a career coach, writer and author, and a Fellow member of the Career Development Association of Australia. Ann was awarded Life Membership in 2019, and in 2015 was awarded the President’s Award for Professional Leadership. An advocate for dropping ‘soft’ skills, Ann can be contacted on email@example.com.
NCDA presented a webinar called Bridging United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with Career & Life Planning on April 23. Speakers included Soonhoon Ahn, Raza Abbas, Dr. Candy Ho, Dr. Lisa Raufman, Danita Redd, and others. They shared many ideas for incorporating SDGs into a career planning course/workshop and explained that these SDG especially energize young people who want to fix things they see that are wrong the world. For those interested in this approach to career planning, below is a list of useful links that were shared during this event.
The news in the USA has recently been full of violent attacks against Asian Americans. Empty, disturbed people can easily grab a weapon of mass destruction in the US and kill many innocent people before they are stopped. It is easy for isolated individuals without meaningful attachments in their lives to blame their emptiness on people with different physical characteristics. This kind of hatred and bigotry has always been part of the US but in the past was kept out of the headlines by leadership that “deplored” overt bigotry. Currently, this type of deplorable behavior has become admired in the U.S. Violence was incited by our former President who took great pleasure is calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” The former President is idolized by large groups of people who claim that they are the majority and they are busy passing laws to make it illegal to vote against the former President.
The majority of Americans are grieving for the Asian Americans who have experienced this violence and we are looking for ways of demonstrating support for the Asian American community. Due to the strong division among Americans and the ease with which the hate groups can find media outlets to build support among like-minded people, it is not easy to stop this type of behavior. Those who encourage it are happy to villainize those who condemn it. Shouting louder and inciting larger crowds to protest does not seem to help.
I am confident that I speak for all American members of APCDA in expressing horror at the violence being directed toward Asian Americans. “Asian Americans” is a large group which includes people who have recently moved to the USA from Asia, people whose parents have lived in this country for generations, and many in between. This kind of hatred toward people who look different is common in the US and often expressed against any person whose skin is not white. It is painful and destructive, no matter what color our skin may be. We know that our skin color and facial features have nothing to do with our ability to contribute to society and lead noble and valuable lives. We also know that cultural differences enrich all of us. The wisdom, beauty, and art from our friends in Asian countries inspires us and is incredibly valuable in broadening our thinking.
In all my life, I have never experienced violence targeting Asians as I am now. Our former (U.S.) President holds the power to quell most of the bashing and violence, but he has yet, shamefully, to take leadership on the matter. I was a foster mother to a young man from Asia who now has his own children. Because he is so successful, I have never worried about him until now. I hope the world realizes that most of the USA is against the bashing, the violence, towards our Asian brothers and sisters. Many of us are taking steps to end it.
I think we must realize that the U.S. is a diverse country. The U.S. is not one like-minded group of people and the leadership in the U.S. changes every 4 to 8 years. I have found that when there is leadership that makes excuses for hate crimes and does not address underlying issues, hate crimes increase. Right now, the U.S. is going through a lot of change and people are frightened about what the future has to offer them. The statistics on hate crimes in the U.S. increased dramatically in the last 3 years. In psychology, we learn that such issues can fester and create irrational thoughts and result in harm to self or others. Such hate is like a cold sore that blisters and gets worse until the most helpful medicine is taken to help heal the problem. It appears that we need time to heal. Luckily, there are many of us in the U.S. who read about horrendous hate crimes and direct our efforts at resolving the issues. Our Attorney General Garland is creating an office to address hate crimes. Unfortunately, change is slow and the news cycle (especially social media) is fast. If my memory serves me, it took more than 40 years for the U.S. to apologize to Japanese Americans about what the U.S. did to them during World War II!
I believe that most of us are members of a very diverse APCDA because we value interacting with diverse cultures that provide us with a wealth of resources and points of view. Nelson Mandala once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” At many of our APCDA conferences we have discussed the importance of hope in career development, but we must take action to create hope. I do believe that a larger proportion of people in the United States are interested in taking action and making the U.S. a more peaceful and accepting country. What you are seeing in the news now is coming from so much disruption in our political and international situation over the last decade. It may take years, but many are working on helping our citizens to have a better life and not to live in fear. Isn’t that the essence of career development? if there is hope, we can change, and we must be the change we want to see in the world (to paraphrase Gandhi).
by John Knell
The International Congress and Convention Association recently held a thought leadership event for organizers of conferences. The speaker was John Knell (culturecounts.cc), a strategy consultant who works across the private, public and government sectors as a cultural policy consultant, analyst, writer, and public speaker.
Mr. Knell sees three tests of leadership caused by the pandemic:
First, leadership today is like flying an airplane when the instrument panel has stopped working. It is terrifying, but he suggested that we must first be nice to ourselves. Then we must ask ourselves what is most important right now? What information are we missing? What might we change now that will have a big effect later (as the pandemic ends)?
Second, we are all affected by these immense forces that have completely changed the rules. His analogy is the heat shield coming off of a rocket hurtling through the atmosphere. Leaders must ask ourselves if we want to return to business as usual. The eco system has changed. Are we open to these changes?
Mr. Knell tells us not to hide our pain. As leaders, we may not look so smart right now. We need to reveal our fragile nature and allow others to see it.
Third, this crisis highlights that we need a different equilibrium between efficiency and resilience. The “new” tools that we use have actually been around for a while, but now we are more dependent on some of the tools. For example, we have had webinars for years, but now that face-to-face meetings have become problematic, the balance has changed and it is more urgent for us to use online tools well and diversify the digital tools that we are able to use. The “new normal” is already here, but in the future, the balance may change again. For example, we may spend more time outdoors in the future because it is safer than indoor spaces. We must constantly assess the value of the tools we use and choose those which hold the most value for us at the moment.
We need to work together to process these changes. He quoted Margaret Heffernan who wrote in Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together, “Making the future is a collective activity because no one person can see enough. No one can have an adequate argument alone or in an echo chamber. So, the capacity to see multiple futures depends critically on the widest possible range of contributors and collaborators. Leave perspectives out and the future is incomplete or invisible.”
In order to think our way into the future, we must ask if the pandemic has caused us to challenge or question long held beliefs about our field and how it needs to function in the future? Has the pandemic turned any of our established mental models or theories on their heads? Are there two or three specific areas (digitalization, job insecurity, working remotely) that are now dominating our thinking in a way they were not before? Look for inspiration in related sectors to give a new feel to what you are doing. Which tool do I need? Then look for that tool. What are your special skills? How does it all fit together?
Mr. Knell gave an example for meeting planners that APCDA conference attendees may find relevant. The content of the conference is the excuse we use to get together. Networking is the real payoff from any conference. When the event arrives, we have very little time to meet the people who will be the most helpful to us. Before the event, we can use digital tools to review the list of attendees and tailor a short list of people who we most need to spend time with. In this way, our time will be spent more effectively when the event is live. This lesson is as valuable for this year's virtual conference as for next year's in-person conference.
By Raza Abbas
As an impactful, global career practitioner during the Covid-19 pandemic, I reflected on the critical importance of career guidance around the world to individual countries and to their respective citizens. Citizens around the world are experiencing lockdowns, society at large is shifting to new norm and everyone is increasingly becoming more digital. This led to the creation of my YouTube Channel and taking inspiration from IAEVG’s 2021 International Conference Theme: Maximizing Career: Guidance & Development, I initiated a global digital advocacy series for our careers and livelihood profession.
The YouTube Career Interview Series has the following objectives:
As Mr. Anthony Mann, Senior Policy Analyst from the OECD, says, ‘In the pandemic now career guidance is irresistible.’ These inspirational words by Mr. Anthony Mann provide our careers community with real hope and remind us that as career professionals we have a collective responsibility to serve and inspire the diverse communities we live in.
I humbly share 10 interviews released on my YouTube Channel:
In closing, I am sharing an inspirational quote for our careers profession which was recently published in the Career Development Network (based in the United States), Jan/Feb 2021 global newsletter,
"Never before in the human era has career guidance been so critical as it is presently;
More interviews and valuable career perspectives are in the pipeline for the YouTube series. Don't forget to share the impactful videos in your professional career communities/ networks and kindly subscribe to the channel. Collectively as career counsellors, career guidance practitioners, career scholars, career services professionals and career researchers we are making a difference during the pandemic and contributing towards inclusion! Stay safe and keep thriving!
By Madina Aitakanova, Balagul Abduali and Gulnur Ismayil-Isparova
On October 29, 2020, the Career and Advising Center at Nazarbayev University organized the online Career Center’s Forum on the topic "Links between employers and higher education institutions" as part of the sharing experience program. The Career Center’s Forum brought together employees of university career centers, career development and planning professionals and employers.
The Nazarbayev University Career Advising Center started the development of a platform for the exchange of experience and best practices through seminars and sessions in 2015. In addition to seminars, the Center has also been conducting special job shadowing sessions for individual universities upon their request. For a more systematic and conceptual approach to the sharing experience program, in October 2019, the Center launched a series of 9 webinars attended by representatives of more than 40 universities in Kazakhstan.
Related to the experience of universities and employers, the Forum presented trends in the labor market of Kazakhstan (for example, optimization by reducing working hours, but not reducing number of employees) and measures to support employment taken by the government (Daulet Argandykov, President of the Center for the Workforce Development). These ideas were supported by the results of the research conducted by Ankor, an international staffing company which found that only 12% of the surveyed companies in Kazakhstan are planning staffing cuts. Ankor also presented the results of the first ever study of employers' brands conducted in the labor market of Kazakhstan (Tengizchevroil, Kazatomprom, Air Astana, etc.). Universum presented the results of Talent Research 2020 conducted among nearly 7 thousand students from Kazakhstan.
The Forum, which was held on the Zoom platform attracted about 110 participants, including colleagues from the career centers of universities from Russia and Belarus. In addition to representatives of universities, employers and specialists in the field of career development attended the event.
One of the guest speakers to the Forum was Ms. Gulnur Ismayil – Isparova, executive Director of Asia Pacific Career Development Association and Acting Associate Vice Rector of ADA University in Azerbaijan. As part of APCDA’s community service and contribution to the field, APCDA leadership is joining various international forums and conferences to share ideas and best practices in career development. Ms. Ismayil – Isparova presented the Association and introduced participants to the scope of APCDA, encouraging them to become members of one of the strongest international career networks in the world. She has also talked about expertise of colleagues across our region with examples from South Korea, China, Japan, Philippines, Australia, USA and Singapore. Important highlights related to the role of government and national agencies in support of extensive private-public partnerships and ways national institutions can be helpful during the pandemic.
To conclude, Ms Ismayil-Isparova drew attention to the article by Dr. Farouk Dey, Vice Provost for Integrative Learning and Life Design at the Johns Hopkins University on 10 Future Trends in College Career Services to share his perspective on the evolution of career centers. Synergy, broader outreach, and development of a University eco-system contribute to the future of university career services, which ensure effective service to students and increase their chances of being successfully employed upon graduation.
We are thankful to our colleagues from Nazarbayev University for this enormous contribution in the field of career development across Kazakhstan!
By Prof. Ronald Sultana
A group of career guidance researchers and practitioners have developed a website that features short pieces on career guidance and social justice. These take the shape of reflections, commentaries, and brief articles. The site also presents case studies where practitioners describe their effort to promote social justice in their daily engagement with citizens in a variety of contexts.
Here is the link to the site: https://careerguidancesocialjustice.wordpress.com
We invite you to contribute to this initiative, which is being accessed by thousands of people involved in career guidance world-wide.
Here is the link to instructions and style guide for contributors: https://careerguidancesocialjustice.wordpress.com/style-guide/
Please send your contribution to Tristram Hooley: firstname.lastname@example.org
We also encourage you to share this information with your network.
Ronald G. Sultana is professor of education at the University of Malta. He has participated as a consulting expert in several international reviews of career guidance across Europe, and in the Middle East and North Africa region. Professor Sultana has authored or co/edited over 30 volumes, and published more than 120 papers in refereed journals and books. He has most recently edited Career Guidance and Livelihood Planning across the Mediterranean (Sense Publishers, 2017), and has co-edited, with Tristram Hooley and Rie Thomsen, Career Guidance for Social Justice: Contesting Neoliberalism (Routledge, 2018)
by Danita Redd and Soonhoon Ahn
COVID-19 Impact on Career Planning! Economic Justice! Sponsorship for APCDA Lifetime Membership! Social Justice! United Nations Sustainable Development Goals! Externships! Generation Alpha! We are just getting started.
In the Western USA and Canada, APCDA members have found a way to stay connected and continue professional development through a regional chapter. The purpose of our nascent group is best understood in our two mottos:
Each teach each other. ~ Soonhoon Ahn’s Nephew
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~African Proverb
Here is a little history: On December 18, 2019, we met at Seattle University in the state of Washington, USA. The Executive Director and APCDA member Hilary Flanagan took us on a tour of the Career Engagement center. The early part of our meeting was spent discussing how to use the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in what we do as teachers, counselors, and mentors. When lunchtime came around, we went to a nearby restaurant with Hilary and nearly all her career center colleagues. We were a culturally diverse group of people sharing over a good meal the stories of our work with students. The passion for career development was palpable and inspiring to all of us. There was a lot of laughter and starts of new friendships. We were learning, expanding our thinking, and falling in love all over again with our careers.
On July 18, 2020 we met by Zoom to formalize our group. We established a quarterly schedule and plans to use future meetings to fulfill our mottos by teaching each other. Albeit we are still working on phrasing for our theme for the next year, the focus will be on SDGs and career planning in a world impacted by COVID-19. We also made sure everyone understood current membership in APCDA was required.
We have Soonhoon Ahn to thank for getting us together. Albeit her idea, we have taken over and are excited about our endeavor. Dr. Xiaolu Hu and Professor Danita Redd are currently serving as co-facilitators. For sure, we will have more to share with you as time goes on. In the meanwhile: Please peruse the SDGs at: https://sdgs.un.org/goals
from Southeast Australia, New Zealand, and Samoa
by Allan Gatenby
RED CARPET RETURN
This week children in NSW returned to school. At one of my granddaughter’s school, the staff rolled out the red carpet, welcoming students back. Yesterday, the SE Australia/NZ & Samoa members group meet amid renewed optimism. The pandemic, amid the roughness of a storm, the coldness of a winter, the confusion of enforced change, signs of new life and hope for a better ‘new normal’ emerge.
Spring always follows winter; sunshine always comes after rain. There is a season for all things. Winter is a time of rest, reflection, renewal, and preparation for the seasons ahead. What have we learnt this winter and how will these insights shape the future of a better life, for more people?
Several themes emerged from the discussion. The feeling in the room is perhaps best described as renewed optimist and refreshed insight. For many, although challenging in so many ways, personally and professionally, there is gratitude and acceptance for the discoveries of this enforced winter and the habits they now want to carry forward to the ‘new normal’.
In this region COVID 19 infection rates are declining. Winter is not over but there are the signs of spring emerging. We are also several months now into social distancing, isolation and changed lifestyles. Fears are subsiding as we better understand what has been happening and seeing more clearly the opportunities and possibilities provided by the pandemic. Thinking is now directed towards shaping the ‘new normal’.
COVID 19 has crystallized trends that have been happening for some time, but we have failed to fully understand. Technology, globalization, rapidly changing workplaces, work practices, gender, generational and cultural diversity are all shaping lifestyles and communities. There is a widening gap between producers and consumers. The numbers of marginalised are increasing and the new wave of entrepreneurs increasing at the same time. How worth is determined individually and collectively is being redefined. COVID 19 has brought some increasing clarity to the impact of changing traditional employment and work practices, changing career and occupational education, changing requirements for preparation for a future yet to be imagined, increasing need for agility, mobility and flexibility of individuals and organizations and the increasing quest for personal wealth, not just material wealth are the context for renewed insight. This must shape our profession, service delivery, training, and leadership.
SIGNS OF HOPE AND SOURCES OF OPTIMISM:
The red carpet is not just a symbol of hope it also guides us towards the glimmering and strengthening lights in the new normal. It is not yet spring but with each step, each marker insight is becoming clearer and power increased. It is certain that the old normal is past. There is gratitude, hope and confidence of a better future and that career development practitioners have a pivotal part to play in this new order. Our quest is now to ensure that successive generations of practitioners, globally, are supported with learning and coaching to enable them to seize the opportunity offered by this pandemic. Different times requires different thinking, different valuing so that we can respond with better services to our clients and to our colleagues.
Allan Gatenby, FRIEdr FRIM CMF JP, is a private practitioner with a long and extraordinarily successful career in educational leadership, career development and life-design coaching. His postgraduate work is in leadership and change. He was a facilitator in both the Franklin Covey Institute and the Glasser Institute. He is the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Career Certification International, Member of the Leadership Team APCDA, chairing the Committee Council and By-Laws Committee. He is Director of OneGroup Leadership and Associated Career Professionals International.