Monday, March 20, 2023 | Sha'ban 27, 1444 H
overcast clouds
25°C / 25°C

Soft skills or leading from the rear

Graduate employability is a massive challenge facing higher education in the Sultanate of Oman as employers face the prospect of continuously developing their Omani workforce. Are the higher education institutions doing enough? Are the students challenging themselves enough? Does this society, so new to higher and further education, understand the diversity of knowledge and skills needed to function effectively outside the educational womb, and after the birth that is graduation.

I attended an orientation event last week where a young engineering draughtsman spoke to a new university cohort about his experiences, the life that he never knew awaited him when he went to university, his four years of study, and the challenges that faced himself, and his generation when he entered the workplace. He thought he knew best, all the way through university, but found out very early on that while his degree (and it was a good one), wasn’t exactly ignored, it never did anything for him once he was on the job.

This erudite young man spoke of having to look, learn, ask questions, and think before answering, to move, and think quickly, to finish jobs, to take criticism and praise equally, and above all to be reliable... if he said he could, or world do something, he did it. He was on time, or early, and at work, every day... that being ‘busy,’ or ‘tired,’ was no excuse. He drew the line at sycophancy, but was adamant that until you are accepted, you must be what you are expected to be, always. You must do what you must do, until you are good enough to do... what you want to do.

How determined he was to open the eyes of his audience wasn’t just interesting, it was a genuine eye-opener, a ‘wake-up’ call if you like and reaffirms what those of us who have been there know, that working, being paid to ‘do stuff,’ means your boss, your company, owns you... body and soul. What they say goes, regardless of what your Mama told you, what your Daddy never told you, and yes, you may be a fine, proud, responsible, upstanding young person, an individual, idealistic, full of the joys of life, but from now forward, sorry... your life is not your own.

In many respects, this young man followed on neatly from a 2021 study by Masoud al Hinai, Dr Abdul Bhuiyan, and Dr Nor Husin recently, on the employability of Oman’s HEI graduates. The scholars point to what seem like simple requirements of being able to communicate effectively, to listen, to speak, to ask appropriate questions, to discuss, argue, negotiate, or persuade... and the fact that these are not just ‘things you will learn,’ you must work at them.

Aligned closely to communication is the need for a focus on teamwork, of respect for, and cooperation with others, and being open to other’s ideas. This is sometimes referred to as a form of professional morality or ethics, as work is not a game where points are scored, but where progress is king! The capacity for factual analysis, problem solving, creative thinking, and viable solutions are all part of the same package.

Human and social capital, and soft skills will take you somewhere your degrees and certificates will never take you. Oh, make no mistake, your qualification will get you a foot in the door, but that’s it, even in an employee friendly environment like Oman, the real work starts when you must accept that others are better at many things, and have far better ‘soft skills,’ like analysis, problem-solving, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, discipline, innovation, independence, responsibility, and all without a know-it-all, smart-alecky attitude.

Now I don’t want you to think I’m gloom-mongering, and that workplaces have returned to the sweat shop hierarchies of old, where you will be suppressed until you’re depressed, and all your laughter and enthusiasm will be sucked out of you... no! What I want, and you need, is a helping of humility, and to know that when you walk in the door at your new job... they are giving you an opportunity... don’t make them regret it, and lead the way... from the rear.

arrow up
home icon