Early this year, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), an international non-profit organisation, held its first ever Kampala youth leadership seminar at Makerere University. The idea was to reach out to young people and interest them in taking responsibility in making a positive impact in their communities, their countries and in the world. However, what stood out in the three-day seminar was the need to equip students with soft skills.
In an article by The Guardian, soft skills are defined as; “Transferable skills or professional skills that are less specialised. Whereas hard skills are the tangible and technical skills easily demonstrated by a student’s qualifications and specific professional experiences, soft skills are intangible and non-technical abilities.” Soft skills include but are not limited to; leadership, communication, self-discovery, values, beliefs, ethics, integrity and teamwork, among others.
Shadia Nankya, a second year Bachelor of Arts in Education student at Kyambogo University, expresses her lack of some of these skills and a need to nurture the few she has.
“It is very hard for me to speak to more than three people especially if I am not personally known to them. Speaking in public is even worse!” she says. She also recalls how disastrous her first class presentation was.
“I had prepared my presentation and I knew all the points, however, the minute I stood in front of the class, I froze. I could not remember a point. I was shaky and nervous. I did the 10-minute presentation in less than five minutes,” Nankya confesses.
What got her more concerned however, was the fact that there was no special class in her course to teach such. “No one has ever taught me how to deliver a presentation or speak in public. No one has ever taught me about etiquette, or how I ought to communicate with different people. I just believe that those are things every student needs,” she adds.
Stephen Ocircan, a Land Economics student, says soft skills help fill the gap left by the curriculum especially when it comes to interactions in the day-to-day life. “I also think those skills play a great role when in bringing out the hidden talents in graduates which may not have been realised earlier due to the nature of our education,” he says.
And indeed Ocircan discovered himself after attending a soft skills session by Inspired Leaders. “I always had a desire to start my own business though I am still a student.
Although I had some fear, I got discouraged by different people and that made me hesitant in exploring my potential outside academics,” he says.
However, after a dialogue with a personal development coach, Ocircan realised he had the potential to be a businessman.
Currently, he runs an E-payments company plus other mobile money shops. He also registered his own company – Ocistech Invesco dealing in real estate consultancy.
Reenah Kakuru, the client partner at Franklin Covey Uganda, a consulting and training company, explains that most people who have lost their jobs have done so due to character and behaviour issues.
“You will remember someone because of how they made you feel. How caring they were, how compassionate or generous, or how dependable they were. Not because of the subject they passed well – it is the soft skills,” she says.
She adds: “When we look at the kind of people our education system is producing, they have those things lacking. That is why we tell young people to discover what they want to be and do it (self-discovery).”
She emphasises that this does should not stop people from going to schools and institutions to study but, “the entire process should just help you discover and shape what one ought to be. That way, we shall have more fulfilled graduates,” Kakuru says.
In a world whose employment landscape is increasingly changing, graduates need more than just degrees to be attractive to prospective employers.