Developing soft skills for a successful future

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Four essential skills for doing well in today’s fast-paced, highly social, ultra-competitive and globally connected world are creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, as identified by the ‘Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills’ (ATC21S) – an organisation at the University of Melbourne that includes more than 250 researchers from sixty different institutions worldwide.

Dr George Vaillant completed a famous study of adult development that followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates throughout the course of their lives. Adaptability was determined as the key determinant of success. Dr Vaillant described the mature adaptive style in the men studied as being able to “make a lemon into lemonade”, meaning to adapt creatively and positively to any situation. He also states that a sense of altruism – the willingness to give of yourself for others – and a sense of humour in handling conflict and stress were key features of this adaptive style.

The St Paul’s senior students who were awarded tertiary scholarships for 2018 didn’t just have high Grade Point Averages; they had shown collaboration skills in their leadership of teams and groups and through their involvement in the school’s ‘Over the Fence Ministry’ service initiative; were able to effectively communicate and get along with others; illustrated initiative and flexibility in their thinking; were often described as ‘being their own man/woman’ and were able to be independent and stand apart when needed.

So if we know what we need to be striving for in our young people, how do we make those first correct steps in that direction?

An address by Dr Shimi Kang at an International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) conference identified the potentially toxic culture often surrounding young people and stressed the importance of the following things: basic sleep, nutrition and exercise to enable the brain to function; mindfulness – the ability to pay close attention to the world around us; creating a community for children to grow up in – based on the quality of relationships, not the quantity of people; teaching and modelling the values we want our teenagers to develop; encouraging a sense of gratitude and appreciation about what we should be thankful for; letting our children try first before stepping in to provide feedback and advice.

Creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are often referred to as ‘soft skills’. The 21st century workplace is increasingly complex, diverse, interdependent and connected. People with ‘soft skills’ typically have strong social skills and are often associated with leadership. Strong successful lives thrive with these characteristics; trustworthiness in the job, home and community; respect for family, friends, colleagues and neighbours; responsibility for the task at hand; and fairness towards others.

These are the things we need to be fostering in our children. As a society, we value those who think of others first and ideally we want our teens to become adults who strive for a win-win solution and are confident, caring social beings.

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Grant Lander