Anne Morris 2

Anne Morris works in education, sending recent Sixth Form students into schools for a gap year, to support young learners as peer tutors. She has seen how going back to the classroom gives those gap year students the soft skills they didn’t realise they needed. She explains why we could all benefit from polishing our soft skills to help our businesses succeed.

‘Soft skills.’ It’s a strange term. We actually prefer to call them essential skills as we recognise their importance. There’s nothing soft about getting the best out of people, working collaboratively and persuasively for the best results.

Perhaps the terminology is making others place less importance upon them: despite the fact that they are proven to be effective in the workplace, these skills - active listening, collaboration, presenting ideas and communicating with colleagues - are not being taught to young people, often to the detriment of their employers.

Sadly, it would appear others don’t: Two thirds of secondary school teachers (68%) and businesses (64%) believe that students don’t have the soft/essential skills needed to be successful at work, according to a recent study by Canvas. What’s more, seven in ten think that ‘soft skills’ don’t get enough attention (69% of businesses and 73% of secondary school teachers).

We have seen hugely intelligent young people leaving Sixth Form bursting with enthusiasm and knowledge, but failing to secure positions of employment or further educational course places due to a lack of confidence, or awareness of these skills. It’s through no fault of their own.

Around six in ten teachers (62%) and business leaders (58%) feel that schools and universities prioritise ‘hard skills’ (technical abilities and subject-specific disciplines) over ‘soft skills’. Over a quarter (28%) of SMEs say they wouldn’t know how to begin to improve their employees’ ‘soft skills’.

And yet, the young tutors we send into schools soon develop them. The classroom, and being at the other side of the desk, so to speak, clearly helps with their professional development. Here are the main ways we can all learn from those in the classroom, for the benefit of our business.

Creativity

Listed as the number one ‘soft skill’ in a recent Linked In Survey, creativity is a broad term that some might think simply doesn’t apply to them. But it doesn’t mean you have to be a good artist or writer, it is about thinking creatively. A young person needs to have the ability to transform and innovate. We have seen GSCE students wrestle with Maths or English because they don’t like those subjects, not necessarily because they don’t have the ability.

A teacher will make it more fun, more relatable and therefore more likely to stick. That’s creativity. If you're a manager, how can you use creativity to sell your ideas to your team or your board, teach them something or encourage them to think creatively to solve a challenge?

Belief

A good teacher believes in their students’ abilities and is able to recognise and draw out a young person’s strengths. Good managers will do the same for their team - someone else demonstrating confidence in you is the biggest boost you can have, after all.

Peer tutors learn to demonstrate belief in their students and upon seeing the results, really start to believe in themselves. It’s fantastic to witness and definitely an essential skill.

Emotion control

Being able to regulate your emotions is a proven method in reducing stress, both within yourself and in others around you. It takes a real awareness of your own triggers, and the ability to alter your response to them, to rise above them.

It really contributes to a good learning and working environment: anxiety impairs your ability to make sensible, rational decisions and can affect everyone around you. A teacher cannot lose their cool in the classroom. Working with schoolchildren will soon teach you that!

Problem solving

It takes quite a bit of skill to stick with an issue, work with it, discuss it, research it and ultimately solve it. Patience is needed to stay in problem-solving mode, and this is something that teaching really helps with. You can’t just give up on something if your student doesn’t ‘get it’ first time around, you have to look at other means of connection and retention. How can you transfer that kind of determination into your organisation and instil it in your team, encouraging them not to give up?

Being persuasive

All types of businesses rely on a type of selling - be it selling a product, a service or a person. Being able to have empathy towards a person’s point of view, yet still being able to persuade them to see things from yours, is a real skill. This is something we see teachers do every day. They don’t dictate or dominate; they advise, reason and convince.

There are conflicting opinions on whether lockdown and working from home through 2020 has improved or damaged our existing soft skills - but one thing I am sure of, is that to help young people develop those soft skills, we need to give them responsibility.

At Yipiyap, we have seen our peer tutors fly through interview processes and straight into medical and law school, thanks in part to the improved social and interpersonal skills they learnt in the classroom. It’s so important to train young people in these skills in real life - not just to give them the opportunities they deserve, but also to ensure a productive, working environment.

Being able to teach peers gives them patience, empathy, encouragement and ability to really TALK. These are skills all young people need in order to thrive. They’re the opposite of soft.

Every day’s a school day, they say. So it makes sense to learn from the classroom.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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