Why Are Soft Skills So Important In the Graduate Job Market?

Why Are Soft Skills So Important In the Graduate Job Market?

Stephanie Lukins

Updated March 3, 2022 Updated March 03

Sponsored by Newcastle University Business School

The world of work may seem a long way off for many university students, but the reality is that, within the next few years, you’ll be graduating with a degree in the hope of stepping into the world of work.

As much as university is about earning a degree, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that soon-to-be-graduates should also possess a bank of soft skills – all of which are critical to the modern workplace. So, what are universities doing to ensure their students are prepared?  

We spoke to Newcastle University Business School and prospective employers, including Lynn Bassett, who is the HR Director from Nike to find out more.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce

Employers are recruiting candidates who are well-rounded and can demonstrate competence in soft skills, such as the ability to communicate well with others, show initiative and responsibility, as well as being able to work well in teams. What’s unfortunate in these circumstances, however, is that many fresh graduates who are actively applying for a job may not be successful due to their lack of soft skills. 

For example, those who wish to pursue a career in business will not only need to have an in-depth understanding of business systems, financial management and be able to analyze big data. They’ll also need to possess soft-skill competencies too, such as being able to communicate and negotiate complex information, as well as lead and motivate a team.

Soft skills are as vital as hard skills

If you can’t project manage a team where team morale and motivation needs to stay high, or effectively communicate a problem or solution with a client, you’re going to struggle.

“A productive and healthy work environment depends on soft skills,” says Lynn Bassett.

“The workplace is an interpersonal space where relationships must be built and fostered, perspectives must be exchanged, and occasionally conflicts must be resolved – all of which rely on someone with soft skills to enable them to function and thrive in teams and in organizations as a whole.”

Soft skills are essentially character traits, and are sometimes referred to as transferable skills, whereas hard skills are easier to define and evaluate, for example, data analysis, or financial management.

The ability to demonstrate a good work ethic, compassion, understanding diversity, emotional intelligence, as well as being able to value and appreciate differences are just some examples of soft skills which employers actively seek in potential hires.

“These softer skills and dispositions are critical for a talent to be naturally inclined to grow themselves and the business.

“They are also critical in helping to create an environment of inclusivity and empathy, in which we expect people to work together as one team; supporting each other in doing meaningful work,” adds Lynn.

So, re-designing the university curriculum by integrating the teaching of employability skills is hugely beneficial for students.

How and why you need to develop your soft skills

Job advertisements make it very clear what they want in an ideal candidate. But what about soft skills? What are employers expecting there? According to the Workplace Learning Report, there is significant evidence in the rise of soft skills in leadership and the value in this trend for the future of work.

Dr. Fiona Robson, Director of Education Enhancement and Employability at Newcastle University Business School believes that the development of soft skills is “essential in equipping students for the future of work and preparing them for their graduate careers.

“It’s essential for business schools to meet the needs of employers, particularly at a time when there is much debate about what jobs in the future will look like.”

Consequently, higher education institutions are taking it upon themselves to teach ‘employability’ alongside traditional degrees in order to prepare students for the world of work after they graduate – which is of great benefit to not just graduates, but potential employers too as Lynn explains:

“If a student has gained an understanding of these skills and hopefully put some of them in to practice whilst studying at university, it helps them differentiate themselves in the recruitment process.

“When asked competency questions, they can call on specific examples of where they have understood these core skills and put them into practice. In addition, it also provides a head start when they transition into the workplace.”

 At Newcastle University Business School, for example, students can develop their leadership skills, employability, confidence, and network as well as their organizational resilience. These graduate attributes are developed throughout their high quality academic degrees, with input from industry and professional accrediting bodies.  Students can develop these skills by getting involved with ‘added value’ activity such as the Common Purpose Future Leader Experience, and events such as the Employability Program or Gain a Global Advantage Conference.

Current BSc in Marketing and Management student, Kristyna Kröblová took part in the Future Leader Experience and told us how she felt about the experience: 

“I have definitely become more aware of the true and vastly varied meaning(s) of the term ‘leader’. It was eye-opening to work in such multi-cultural teams and it really taught me to think about how to work in such an environment.

“I made valuable connections, some friendly and some potentially beneficial for my professional career and I have gained an incredible access to a wider worldwide alumni network of Common Purpose.”

The ease of blending leadership development and soft skills alongside degree learning encompasses the entire concept of ‘whole student development’ – something which Naomi Oosman-Watts, Assistant Director for the Careers Service at Newcastle University, considers essential.

“Employers are likely to look for graduates who already display a good range of well developed ‘soft skills’ and are able to integrate quickly into the workplace.

“A key part of the university experience for students should be engaging with the whole experience in order to develop a range of graduate attributes in different contexts curricular and extracurricular – this will allow them to demonstrate to employers that they have a well-rounded profile and are able to quickly adapt and apply their skills to different situations.” 

This article was originally published in October 2019 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

As the sponsored content writer for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com , Stephanie creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics. 

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