‘Soft skills’ are essential skills | Inquirer Opinion
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‘Soft skills’ are essential skills

Yesterday’s headline referred to the findings of a recent Commission on Human Rights (CHR) situational report that highlighted the unique challenges of fresh graduates in finding jobs. The report called this batch of graduates the “pandemic generation” as they finished their schooling in an almost exclusively online setting. Focus group discussions with employers noted that the new graduates seem to lack soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. They also cited the mismatch between K-to-12 training and the skill sets and experience required to be able to enter certain industries.


The CHR report seems to match the sentiments of my friends who are managers and team leaders. During informal get-togethers, they almost always end up asking me how they can understand this new generation better. They shared challenges in getting them to behave professionally—show up on time, file leaves properly, make sure that projects aren’t left hanging. They are flummoxed whenever their young teammates fail to communicate a problem in a timely manner and when they do so, it is without any initial attempts to solve the problem first. They also express surprise at how the younger generation can’t seem to even craft a professional letter or request.

Is it really the online mode of learning that has seemed to stunt the youth’s social and communication skills?


To look at this analytically, we must first acknowledge that switching to online modalities is not the only factor that changed in education during the pandemic. We also changed our performance expectations. In the University of the Philippines, for example, we instituted a no-fail policy. We also gave the first semester of pandemic an extension of three semesters for them to complete their requirements. We also strongly encouraged teachers to simplify the requirements themselves. They were noble and compassionate intentions for sure but lacked in long-term awareness of what lowering academic standards would mean for our graduates’ readiness to work.

We also reduced our social requirements, with some allowing students the option to turn off their cameras and mics. This allowed for purely passive learning—if they were even paying attention at all. In transitioning back to face-to-face learning, I have had a surge of consults related to social phobia with children unable to tolerate being seen and heard by their teachers and peers. We have unwittingly sensitized children to the discomforts of daily social living.

Because of internet inequality, we have strongly encouraged asynchronous instruction, which meant that they no longer benefit from instantaneous feedback and correction. This slows down learning significantly and increases frustration when they finally get their feedback. This also meant that they are more likely to experience feedback in a negative way and make them less tolerant of it.

Even before the pandemic, group work was a common bane for students. In my practice, the three most hated things in school that I hear are: Filipino, essay writing, and group work. For all three, students often explain that they feel irrelevant and only seem like an added burden. It would be very difficult to find an industry or trade that doesn’t involve some form of teamwork. Even the most introverted programmers still have to communicate with their project leaders. I do find, however, that most schools don’t explicitly teach the skills needed to work together effectively. Perhaps this is the “soft skills” mentioned by the CHR report. Programs may be teaching the technical basics of a trade, but they rarely teach you how to work with people. Group work activities should be accompanied by process guides on how to resolve disagreements or how to ensure each member’s active participation. I remember a long time ago suggesting that group processes and project management should be included as general education subjects but was laughed at for being “too neoliberal” and catering to the job market.

The realities of the pandemic—including switching to online modality—has landed us where we are. We need to acknowledge that there has been regression in social and communication skills. We must also realize that the solution to this is not by lowering training standards and expectations, but instead by finding ways to increase social opportunities so that the children can catch up. Any skill, be they technical or social, does not just develop overnight or “come naturally.” They need to be taught and practiced.






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TAGS: Commission on Human Rights, graduates, skills
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