Soft skills play a crucial role in the success of an organisation

WHILE much has been said about South Africa's skills shortages in key sectors in recent times, more attention needs to be given to soft skills across all sectors if organisations are to leverage the full potential of their human resources.

This is according to Brian Kleinsmith, programme director of a new University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business short course called Critical Skills.

These skills - once regarded as secondary to hard skills or technical knowledge - are increasingly being acknowledged as key factors in determining organisational success or failure, says Kleinsmith, who argues they should be elevated from "soft" to "critical" status.

"Acclaimed American psychologist Daniel Goleman has suggested that soft skills - or the combination of competencies that determine an employee's ability to manage his or herself and work successfully with others - are far more important than IQ or technical (hard) skills in determining career success in similarly qualified individuals," says Kleinsmith.

"Less attention is traditionally paid to these skills but in truth they are crucial in determining the productivity and value of employees, and hence the productivity and success of organisations as a whole," he adds.

Kleinsmith defines soft or critical skills as those such as self-awareness; communication and good listening; problem-solving and decision-making; planning and time management; conflict management; and leadership ability.

Currently, other emergent countries like India and Brazil are grappling with the issue of soft skills development. Like in South Africa, many companies are worried that graduates are not work-ready - they feel they are lacking the soft skills and business proficiencies needed to complement their technical knowledge.

For example, a study conducted in September last year by the Indian School of Integrated Learning (ISIL) found that 46percent of the students surveyed said the ideal course mix ratio of soft skills to domain knowledge should be 70:30. This astounding split highlights that students themselves are acutely aware of their own shortcomings upon entering the marketplace.

Here in South Africa, there now seems to be a growing realisation of the importance of developing employees' soft skills.

Kleinsmith has designed the critical skills short course, running at the UCT GSB this August to fill the gap in the market and offer all graduates, professionals and organisations an opportunity to kick-start development in these crucial areas.

He says the use of experiential learning tools to fully engage delegates and prompt lasting behaviour changes will ensure the programme delivers results.

"Research has shown that people retain about fivepercent of new information when listening, but around 75percent when engaged in an activity. We have therefore designed a programme that gets people really involved in understanding what their soft skills shortcomings and strengths are through specially designed activities," he says.

Critical Skills runs at the UCT GSB on August 23 and is aimed at professional individuals or organisations wanting to increase their productivity and the personal contribution of each employee to the workplace through better communication, personal accountability, problem-solving abilities, leadership skills and more.

For more information or to register contact Alison Siebritz on 021-406-1490 or SMS "Critical" to 31497.