Soft Skills

As part of the regular lunches I have with Year 12 students, I always ask them what they hope to do when they graduate. Not unsurprisingly, this elicits an entire spectrum of responses, from ‘no idea’ through to very singularly-minded, specific courses of study that will lead to a certain career or job.

It’s interesting to hear about the fields of study and work our young people are interested in. Given the rate of change in society, the impact of technology and the trends and forces in the labour market, I wonder how many of these jobs will still be in existence by the time they complete their university degrees.

If we are to believe the research, that between 30 and 70 percent of jobs in the future haven’t been invented yet, and the Class of 2030 (the current Prep cohort) will have between four and eight different careers, then the capacity of our students to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn will become increasingly important.

How do we prepare our children and young people for a V.U.C.A (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world? Certainly, the fundamentals of numeracy and literacy will continue to be important, as they are the ‘price of entry’ into society. Critical and creative thinking skills; like problem-solving, synthesis, thinking flexibly and design thinking; will become even more important. As such, the College is introducing Dimensions of Learning as its Teaching and Learning Framework because of its emphasis on these ways of thinking.

Perhaps even more important than these higher order thinking skills will be development of so-called ‘soft skills’ such as leadership, collaboration, empathy, communication, and team work. A recent Harvard Graduate School of Education blog post, titled ‘Interpersonal Skills and Today’s Job Market’, points to the growing importance of social skills in the contemporary job market. Professions that require highly developed soft skills are likely to continue to grow, while more technically-oriented jobs, particularly those where skills can be automated, are likely to continue to shrink. We know that soft skills can be learnt (often they are experiential learning opportunities) whether it be as part of a Robotics trying to solve a problem, or as part of an initiative activity at an outdoor education camp, as part of a Debating Team piecing together a shared argument; or in a Theatresports team crafting responses to various stimulus; or working together as part of a sport team in pursuit of a common goal.

The author of the blog offers some interesting advice to students: ‘try to be good at a lot of different things, and particularly things that don’t often go together’. Students with unusual combinations of skills will become employees with valuable assets to bring to the table, no matter what job or career they pursue. This is a key reason why a St Peters education is holistic in nature. It’s why we value a diverse cocurricular program. It’s why we offer the IB, PYP and Diploma programs. It’s why we run Ironbark. The experiential nature of many elements of the educational program, both in and out of the classroom, plays an important role in developing the soft skills of our students, and preparing them for successful participation in a rapidly changing world.

Tim Kotzur, Head of College