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Abstract: The article explores the methodology to be adopted in imparting softskills training to employees. It reviews the learning theories relevant to training and explores the possibility of their implementation in softskills training. It identifies Bandura’s Social learning theory as the ideal model for SST. The role of soft skills trainer to provide role models for learning soft skills by presenting himself personally or by inviting role models as guest faculty. There is no argument in the vital nature of soft skills in an employee’s effectiveness in an organization It is an established fact. Increasingly, companies aren't just assessing their current staff and future recruits on their business skills. They are now assessing them on a whole host of soft skill competencies around how well they relate and communicate to others. In the most progressive companies, managers are looking for people's ability to communicate clearly and openly, and to listen and respond empathetically. Many significant business researches have identified social skills (read soft skills) as the singular factor in differentiating star performers from mediocre performers. For example, a recent study by Johnson and Burden (2003) found employers expected younger people to be less likely to have work experience and therefore they ‘tend to focus upon ‘softer skills’ and behavioural attitudes in the recruitment process, with a less prominent role played by qualifications’. Employers report that technical and occupational skills can be taught on-the-job if the recruit has the right soft skills, such as motivation and willingness to learn (Dench et al., 1998). Kodz and her colleagues (1998) also find that employers use soft skills as an indicator of peoples’ ability to learn occupational skills. Further research will only confirm the importance of soft skills training to future managers in increasing productivity, fostering innovation, ability to be a team player, persuasion of organizational agendas, sensitivity to workplace diversity and successful negotiation of conflicts. Beyond this we have specialist needs such as language learning, presentation skills, coaching and a host of other organisational needs that all require a high degree of competence in softskills.
It’s the soft stuff that’s hard
Now, that the “Why” of the soft skills has been firmly established, we have to focus on the “How”. How we can effectively impart these vital skills is the challenge looming large before the B-Schools and corporate world. As we all understand the emphasis in our schools and universities is not on soft skills or ‘skills’ in general. Our academic curriculum tends to ignore these important life skills. The concentration in these early years of our learning has been solely gaining knowledge and not acquiring skills. It is therefore left to employers to improve performance in these areas. Daniel Goleman in the influential best seller “Working with Emotional intelligence” argues forcefully for the ‘hard case of soft skills’. But, in practice, there is nothing soft about soft skills. And it is evident from industry estimates - millions of Rupees and dollars are spent on soft skills training across the world.
The modus operandi of delivering soft skills training (SST) is varied. The term ‘softskills’ is widely used in training, yet there are some key questions that need to be asked about its definition and how it can be taught and learnt. Softskills are mostly about knowing how something is done, rather than factual or procedural knowledge. What is bewildering is that there is no mention of the term ‘softskills’ in the serious learning
literature. Of the dozens of theories, curiously, none mention softskills. Neverthless, we can benefit from an exploration into the learning theories.
Learning theorosits have given us a framework for designing and implementing training (education). We should have a basic understanding of learning principles before we try to comprehend nuances of SST. Benjamin Bloom was among the first to define learning behaviours into three major categories: Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor learning. We obviously learn much from experience, either formally in terms of structured exposure in training or in work and life itself through informal learning. Kolb and others since have examined how we learn experientially and how this can be used to guide instructional strategies. He was heavily influenced by Dewey, Lewin and Piaget, preferring an experiential model for learning as opposed to purely cognitive models. So we learn that softskills instruction is not about telling, it’s about real or fictionally constructed experience, involvement and practice, including the experience of failure. Multiple intelligences We need to be aware, for example, of Gardiner’s multiple intelligences, which suggests that at least three (out of a total of eight) intelligences interact in the ability to apply softskills. According to Gardiner these dispositions need to be identified in the learner: Intelligence Linguistic intelligence Interpersonal intelligence Intrapersonal intelligence Description To learn, use and be sensitive to language(s). Ability to read others’ intentions, motivations, desires and feelings. Self-knowledge and ability to understand and use one’s inner knowledge.
These three intelligences are vital for learning the components of softskills. Role of personality The role of personality in softskills is also important. A more serious objection to the idea that softskills can be taught, is that the mind, far from being a blank slate ready to have softskills poured into it, is an evolved entity with inherited characteristics. Some of these personality characteristics involve softskills. At the layman’s level we are all aware of people whose personality influences what we consider to be softskills. We do not expect introverts to become hunter-like sales people, neither should we expect softskills training to transform core personality traits. From Sigmund Freud to Abraham Maslow many personality psychologists have found the constancy of character traits. A person traumatized in a ship wreck in the childhood will have great difficulty in overcoming the fear to go into the sea again. There has been many models to understand and assess human personality. The latest and most reasearched personality theory is the Big five personality model. The ‘big five’ personality traits captured in the mnemonic OCEAN are:
• Openness • Conscientiousness • Extrovert-introvert • Agreeableness • Neuroticism Many personality psychologists agree that these are the five major factors of personality, It is important to understand that many see these traits as stable over a person’s lifetime and not subject to change through training. All of these to some degree are active in determining a person’s abilities to practice softskills. Extraversion and agreeableness is of particular importance. Describes an individual's pro-active seeking and appreciation of experience for its own sake. Describes how organized, motivated and thorough an individual is in life and in pursuing goals. Extraversion describes how energetic and enthusiastic a person is - especially when dealing with people. Describes a person's attitudes towards other people. Neuroticism measures the different ways people have of reacting emotionally to pressure and stressful circumstances.
Openness to Experience
These traits are widely believed to be fundamentally genetic. So, to what degree can soft skills be taught at all? One answer is to recognise that many of these tacit skills can’t be taught to many people. The extreme introvert is never going to become the confident conference presenter. The talented but shy software engineer is never going to become a bubbly sales person. We wouldn’t consider everyone as a candidate for negotiation skills training. In fact we’d mostly agree that very few people indeed have the ability to pull this off, even with training. So, with these constraints in mind, SS trainer has to do some hard thinking while trying to impart the skills to the trainees. SST has to seriously contemplate on the best way to implement the SS training.
What is the best way for SST The best model for SST should be based on a learning theory which encompasses the situation of classroom and theme of skills development. Such a theory is Bandura’s Social Learning Theory which posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura). Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.
Reciprocal Determinism Behavioral Capability Expectations Self-Efficacy Observational Learning Reinforcement
Behaviour changes result from interaction Involve the individual and relevant others; work to change between person and environment; change is the environment, if warranted bi-directional Knowledge and skills to influence behavior Beliefs about likely results of action Confidence in ability to take action and persist in action Beliefs based on observing others like self and/or physical results Provide information and training about action Incorporate information about likely results of action in advice Point out strengths; use persuasion and encouragement; approach behaviour change in small steps Point out others' experience, physical visible changes; identify role models to emulate
Provide incentives, rewards, praise; encourage selfResponses to a person's behaviour that reward; decrease possibility of negative responses that increase or decrease the chances of recurrence deter positive changes
Source: 'Theory at a Glance: A Guide for Health Promotion Practice' National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Bandura believed in “reciprocal determinism”, that is, the world and a person’s behavior cause each other, while behaviorism essentially states that one’s environment causes one’s behavior, Bandura, who was studying adolescent aggression, found this too simplistic, and so in addition he suggested that behavior causes environment as well. Later, Bandura considered personality as an interaction between three components: the environment, behavior, and one’s psychological processes (one’s ability to entertain images in minds and language).
The Ideal way The importance of developing a skill is vital. The ideal way learning will be to follow the social learning perspective of Bandura. This model implicates the central role of SS trainer in inculcating the soft skills. He has to provide an ideal environment ofr learning through his presence and the classroom environment. The soft skils trainer’s responsibility to be a role model to the students is imperative. The trainees will unconsciously look upon the SS trainer as a person of higher knowledge and skill. And whatever the SST does is the ideal way to say and do. So, the competency of the soft skills trainer becomes very important. In order to be an effective SS trainer should be competent in linguistic skills – English proficiency – interpersonal skills; possess good business communication, including etiquettes and manners; positive & confident body language,. SST should also be good in time management. If arrives to the class late or takes too much of time then the students will feel that he is not following what he preaches. In short the SST should “walk his talk”. The SST can also invite guest faculty who represent the business world. Such a guest should be professional in his appearance, approach and interaction with the students.They can also serve as role models for the students to follow.
The external (material) environment and the psychological atmosphere are very important. The classroom of the SST should be one that fosters curiosity, exploration and learning. The SST should be Personal and Passionate in his interaction with the trainees. The mood should be one of “serious fun” – where the aim is to learn important skills which are vital for one’s success in the increasingly competitive corporate world. But the actual learning interaction should involve certain amount of playfulness. The classical broken squares (developed by Pfeiffer & Jones, 1974) intra team collaboration is a good example. In this activity, the trainees are so much engrossed in the activity. But the climate is one of fun also. The activity generates a feeling of “happy desperation”. There is a genuine curiosity and determination to solve the problem. But there is also a sense of desperation. A Plan for a Soft skills training class
Like a business meeting, set an agenda and schedule that is fast-paced and holds students’ interest. You can use this formula: This is to warm up and set the tone—interactive and fun. This can be as simple as introducing Begin with an icebreaker yourself by name and sharing an interesting fact or play Students are eager to hear about your dreams as a child, a humorous anecdote about when you were their age, or how you dealt with challenges along Share a personal story the way. Students need to connect to you in order to connect to your career. Jump into a hands-on activity. Make time for any final questions and ask for input. Evaluation This helps keep students engaged and offers a snapshot of your work. Find out what the students liked and how can you improve next time. Check out whether the targeted skills has been learnt optimally.
1. Newton B, Hurstfield J, Miller L, Page R, Akroyd K. Research Report DWPRR 295, What Employers Look for When Recruiting the Unemployed and Inactive: Characteristics, Skills and Qualifications, Department for Work and Pensions, 2005. 2. Johnson, S., Burden, T. (2003), Young People, Employability and the Induction Process, Joseph Rowntree Foundation 3. Pfeiffer J.W. and Jones J.E. (1969). A Handbook of Structured Experiences for Human Relations Training. San Jose, University Associates. 4. http://www.comminit.com/redirect.cgi?r=http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinformation/theory-at-a-glance 5. Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam 6. Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, September). Social Learning Theory (Bandura) at LearningTheories.com. Retrieved September 8th, 2008 from http://www.learning-theories.com/social-learningtheory-bandura.html 7. Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, September). Social Development Theory (Vygotsky) at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved September 8th, 2008 from http://www.learningtheories.com/vygotskys-social-learning-theory.html
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