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What Are Soft Skills and How to Build Them in the Workplace

soft skills. You’ve probably heard of the term, but what are “soft skills” and how can people develop them in the workplace, at school, or even during childhood?

We spoke to Susan McKoin, Global Head of Talent Acquisition & Deployment at The Coca-Cola Company, and Greg Wise, Managing Director of Life & Workforce Readiness at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Both offered their insights into soft skills, how to build them in the workplace and beyond, demonstrate in a resume, the best ones to possess and why soft skills alone are not enough to get the job done.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills can encompass many things, and as Greg said, “they are universally transferrable skills”. They are things like critical thinking, teamwork, effective communication and resilience. Soft skills are intangible, while hard skills are typically job-specific—such as being able to use a computer program, build a house, or design a product.

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are something anyone can acquire from a young age, from learning how to work in a team as part of a sports program to mastering the complexities of working together during a group project at school.

Still, soft skills don’t come naturally to many people and can be difficult to teach – especially in this digital age, when many jobs are remote and people (including our youth) have experienced extended periods of isolation due to the recent pandemic. As Susan explained, “The sooner we can help young people collaborate and work together to build soft skills for jobs, the better off they will be when they reach the workplace.”

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What are some practical tips to help people build soft skills in the workplace (and beyond)?

Headshot by Susan McKoinSusan McKoin, Global Head of Talent Acquisition & Deployment, The Coca-Cola Company

When it comes to building soft skills in the workplace, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, as Susan said, “People can continually build soft skills by stepping out of their comfort zone and collaborating with others to push the boundaries of their knowledge.”

Here are a few things people can try at work to build their soft skills (bonus: students can also use these tips at school or at a boys and girls club):

  • Volunteer to lead a project — This helps build soft skills in communication, critical thinking, leadership, time management, and empathy.
  • Arrange a one-on-one meeting with your manager or mentor — This enables you to communicate clearly, take initiative, think critically, lead, practice empathy and give and receive feedback.
  • Found an initiative or an association — This will require you to have leadership skills, communication, empathy, socialization and time management.

How to demonstrate soft skills for your resume

Susan explained that job candidates at The Coca-Cola Company are encouraged to include soft skills on their resume and discuss them during the interview. For example, a candidate may want to add information about leading a team or being part of a successful team or project at work. “This shows examples of work ethic and time management skills. When applicants outline their accomplishments, they should think about how they can incorporate the soft skills that led to that accomplishment,” said Susan.

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And for those who might be entering the job market and don’t have much work experience yet, there are other ways to demonstrate soft skills for jobs. Young people in particular should consider listing school projects (including their role), volunteer activities, club/extracurricular experiences (club kids, we’re talking to you!), and part-time jobs or internships.

Five necessary soft skills to be successful in the workforce

Soft skills cannot be overemphasized, but they are learned long before a person enters the job market. Soft skills for future jobs are learned in childhood.

Headshot by Greg WiseGreg Wise, Executive Director of Life & Workforce Readiness, Boys & Girls Clubs of America

“The social-emotional learning that happens before A job helps define successful people,” Greg said. “Are you self-regulating, planning ahead to make sure you wake up on time and have your work clothes ready to go to school and work and show up with the right attitude?”

“All of these skills need to be learned and practiced before you even step in and get paid,” Greg continued. “We at Boys & Girls Clubs of America and through our partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, among others, have an unprecedented opportunity to help young people succeed in their community and in the workplace through our Life & Workforce Readiness program for children and youth to become. ”

Boys & Girls Clubs help young people thrive by promoting soft skills development throughout the club day and helping children as young as six develop their communication, teamwork and leadership skills. In addition, clubs offer mentoring, career exploration, job shadowing, hard skills development, interview preparation and more—including helping teens connect with first jobs.

“With the support of The Coca-Cola Company, social-emotional skills development and career exploration will continue to be integrated into the club kids program and both have been and will continue to be a strategic focus of Boys & Girls Clubs of America Life & Workforce readiness strategy,” said Greg.

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And as young people mature and enter the workforce, Susan explained the top five soft skills she believes are key to employee success:

  1. guide
  2. ability to adapt
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Strong work ethic
  5. communication

“At The Coca-Cola Company we have a mentoring program and a solid learning environment. We want to encourage every employee around the world to continuously learn and build on their soft skills throughout their career. At the same time, it is a one-way street; Individuals must want to improve and have the drive to reach their full potential. We’re here to help everyone succeed,” said Susan.

It takes soft skills & hard skills to get the job done

The truth is, soft skills alone won’t get you anywhere, but they will remain non-negotiable for employers. In fact, a LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report states that 92% of hiring managers say soft skills are equal or more important than technical skills when hiring. Additionally, nearly 9 in 10 said when they fail to hire, it’s usually because they lack key job soft skills.

Regardless of whether you are preparing to enter the workforce or are already in the workforce, it is crucial to continuously develop your soft and hard skills. This ‘lifelong learning’ approach ensures that the opportunities for your growth are truly limitless.

Soft skill building starts here

With a focus on social-emotional learning, boys’ and girls’ clubs across the country are helping young people develop the soft skills necessary to become problem solvers, communicators and leaders so they can find a job they love when they’re ready. Learn how clubs prepare young people for college, careers and life, and how we can help you too.

The Coca-Cola Company is a founding partner of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Life & Workforce Readiness program, helping to prepare today’s young people for work and life. More details about this partnership are linked here.

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