What do I need to succeed? A question for the students of today

There is much talk about the nature of work in the future. What further impacts will advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have on the workplace of tomorrow for example? Where is my place? How can I prepare?

Many sources are alarming to the unwary, with high projections of jobs lost or professions rendered redundant for the future. On a more positive note, the story is the same for the creation of new professions as well of course; but this again is very much an unknown.

In a documentary posted in 2019, The Economist reaches the following conclusion “The world of work will be radically different in the future. From hyper-surveillance of staff to digital nomadism to robots taking jobs—how, where and why we work is changing beyond all recognition.” Being able to navigate through and adapt to change is key and there is an increasing consideration given to ‘soft skills’: their promotion and development is gaining traction.

Soft Skills

As reported by Forbes, Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report shows “92 percent of Deloitte’s respondents rated soft skills as a critical priority”. Oxbridge Academy simply states “hard skills are useless without soft skills”. According to Charter College in the US and citing, “up to 85% of your job success can be soft skill dependent”. But what are soft skills and how can they be acquired?

A working definition of soft skills is “Soft skills are interpersonal skills such as the ability to communicate well with other people and to work in a team.” The list of these skills can vary but as a general rule we can consider the following as representative:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Critical thinking
  • Listening
  • Adaptability
  • Organisation
  • Teamwork

Looking at the list above, we can immediately identify skills that we master to a certain extent but are part of our ‘personal knowledge’. Without getting into the nature vs nurture debate, the role of upbringing would seem central to an individual’s inherent or ‘natural’ competencies. But what about at school or while on the job?

Application of Skills

Education systems place considerable emphasis upon subject content and associated skills. The mission statements of a high percentage of schools also have phrases that cite preparation for a changing world. How?

The programme being used is the first element. The International Baccalaureate for example, has been developing a curriculum model that as well as content, also develops and promotes reflection about oneself and also major global themes. Overall this would seem to pay dividends for tertiary education as well: “The acceptance rate of IB students into Ivy League institutions is between 3% and 13% higher compared to the total population acceptance rate.”

Another major factor is the extent to which a school community also fosters recognition, understanding and involvement of the world beyond the confines of its’ walls. In the words of William Wordsworth “The education of circumstances is superior to that of tuition.”

Moving to the workplace, employers are increasingly looking to promote soft skills and there are strong reasons to support this. For example: “Companies rely on problem solvers—a.k.a. their top performers—to navigate unexpected challenges.”. This point of view is brought into sharp focus by Forbes in a 2018 article entitled ’Why your company should prioritise soft skills’. So, soft skills are not only here to stay but may well be a prerequisite in our evolving world.

How well equipped are you for a challenge, the nature of which you don’t even know yet?


David Newsam

International Baccaulaureate Coordinator – Haut-Lac International Bilingual School

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