By Meloney Brazzola, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne
If you already know what you plan to study at university, that's great! If you’re still weighing up your options, that’s fine, too. But either way, make sure to consider a program of study that will help you develop your soft skills in addition to the training in your specific field.
What are soft skills?
It can sometimes be difficult to pin down a universal definition for soft skills, but you can consider them as skills that are not tied to one specific job; they’re general characteristics that help people thrive in a work, study or social setting, regardless of their experience, role or discipline. They’re sometimes also called transferable skills or interpersonal skills.
Why are they important?
Almost every interaction with other people will require some level of soft skill proficiency. At a company you might be negotiating to win a new contract, presenting an idea to other students in a class, organizing your time to ensure you meet your deadlines, and so on. We use soft skills everyday, so developing them will make you more likely to succeed, whatever you do.
What's more, business leaders and academic research are suggesting that soft skills now have a critical role to play in helping you stand out from the crowd and advance your career. Many universities are beginning to nurture their student’s soft skills as an integral part of their curriculum: EHL (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne) emphasizes their experiential education model, within and outside of the classroom, providing a social learning context where cultural sensitivity, leadership skills, adaptability and an appreciation for lifelong learning are developed.
1. Problem Solving
The ability to think logically and critically to solve real business problems is essential in our complex, ever-changing world. Companies need to be able to continuously improve products and services to compete. To do this they need workers who can ask the right questions to get to the bottom of a problem. You will need to learn how to think and learn, because the only way to remain useful and relevant over an entire career of 30-40 years will be if you are able to change and adapt.
Being able to think in new ways to solve problems is another essential soft skill you should develop. Computers—even very smart ones—are not (yet) able to bring the same level of creativity as humans can to the table. Curiosity and imagination drive innovation and are key to problem solving. “Out-of-the-box” thinking will be needed to find new and innovative ways to address problems.
Skills such as communication, listening and public speaking are becoming more and more important also. Knowing how to communicate effectively is a key part of building professional relationships—be they with your teammates, your supervisors, leaders in the organization or with clients.
Experience with multiple cultures can help you develop your communications skills. And awareness of cultural sensitivities will enable you to operate comfortably in many settings or even in other countries and locations. International internships and work experience can help develop an open, global mindset that is sought after by global companies everywhere.
4. Time Management
An often-overlooked trait that has never been more important is the ability to effectively manage your time and stay organized. As workplaces and higher education institutions demand you to balance tasks and complete your work within a timeframe, staying on top of things while also making time for yourself is crucial. The ability to prioritize well and work smarter rather than harder is a vital skill you can apply to your studies, career and beyond.
5. Stress Management
Being stressed is a fact of life - it's how we deal with our stress that is important. Stress management is a key soft skill because without it, no other skills can be fully realized and we are prevented from reaching our true potential. We all go through tough phases, but through understanding what causes stress and actively using techniques to manage it, we can take back control. By recognizing unhelpful habits and adopting more useful ones, you can feel happier and more productive in everyday life.
The speed of the market and our workplaces, powered by the constant stream of new technology, will not slow down. To respond to these demands, successful people need to know how to collaborate with others and be adaptable. Knowing how to work in a team, being able to build on each team member’s unique strengths, knowing how to deal with frustrations, and being able to adapt to rapidly changing work environments are all critical in the workplace of the future. Choosing an educational program where you have a chance to work on group projects, for example, will help prepare you to meet any new challenge you face.
As you consider your next course of study, pay attention to programs that place emphasis on developing these soft skills in addition to your core subject matter.
You can expect to change jobs at least seven times in your lifetime—and some of these jobs will be ones that don’t even exist today. In a few short years we will see more advanced automation, robotics and artificial intelligence that will greatly change how we work and live. Some jobs will disappear, others will grow, and entirely new jobs that don’t exist today will be created. What is certain is that you will need to be able to continuously learn and adapt if you want to keep pace. Employers today seek candidates with a strong dose of soft skills in addition to technical knowledge in a subject.
Having a full set of soft skills in your toolkit can help you stand out from other candidates and will also help you be able to adapt to new ways of working in the future. Over your entire career, soft skills will set you apart. Be sure to make them part of your educational experience!
Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) is an ambassador for traditional Swiss hospitality and has been a pioneer in hospitality education since 1893. It has created and inspired a unique professional community of over 25,000 hospitality managers, united by the values and the legacy of EHL.