Soft Skills are the Hardest to Kill￼
In the past few decades, as technological advancement became the solution to almost every problem, the underlying worry that technology more so than foreign workers and ambitious youngsters would replace us in our workspace. Why hire a person if a machine can do it better? But even in a working environment, we need more than productivity. Interaction is important, crucial even. Motivation, too. Improvisation is often necessary, and emotional intelligence and intuition are paramount. And however efficient and unerring machines can be, they are completely lacking when it comes to these attributes. The attributes that are often called “Soft Skills”.
Soft Skills are often underestimated or dismissed because unlike more cognitive elements, they cannot truly be quantified. How do you rate creativity, intuition, social and self-awareness? How do they measure up against the more traditional features that encourage employment and lead to professional success? This makes it difficult to even agree on what constitutes a “soft skill”. To oversimplify, “soft skills” concerns how you work, as opposed to the actual work you do. From interpersonal prowess, to communication capacity, from time management to team building and leadership, from detail orientation to big-picture foresight, soft skills are not job specific; they are universal.
The demand for Soft Skills has actually increased in direct proportion to technological and digital progress: as the demand for cognitive skills lessened, the singularity of soft skills – something a machine cannot replicate – rose. In his study about “The Growing Importance of Soft Skills in the Labour Market”, David J. Deming noted this was because the “skills and tasks that cannot be substituted away by automation are generally complemented by [soft skills].”
In a creative agency like QG, soft skills are the oil that keeps the whole operation running smoothly. Our ability to work as a team is only as strong as the morale that is maintained. The capacity to collaborate is crucial to our work; as individuals, as departments, and as an agency. Communication is our lifeblood, and as the careworn Ugandan adage points out; charity begins at home. The eloquence with which we communicate and interact define the quality of our work, and in the advent of COVID-19, we took necessary measures to maintain our contact; if anything, we improved upon it.
Being forced into isolation could have broken the QG spirit. Instead it forced us to compensate for our physical distance by honing our soft skills. We begin each day with a status check-in, we bookend the week by reviewing our highs and lows and sharing our hopes for the week to come. Even now, two years on, the most active WhatsApp groups I’m in are my QG chats – and there are several.
Do we talk about work? Yes. But we also celebrate moments of impact with each other, mourn our losses together. From a colleague’s newborn son, to the passing away of a loved one, we’re a community that supports each other. You cannot underestimate the power of caring. After all, love, compassion, hope; these are always the catalysts for the most incredible innovations and collaborations in history.
Women have historically surpassed men in their capacity for soft skills. Some attribute this to the gender roles that have been assigned to men and women culturally and historically. Others suggest that this is an extension of the difference between the male and female brain: men are more suited to spatial tasks, women to critical learning, for example.
In recent years, more women are occupying positions of leadership across the world, in several different sectors – especially satisfying to note during Women’s History month. This is undoubtedly because, in part, the soft skills that women are more adept at harnessing are conducive to fostering a productive, thriving professional environment.
Stereotypically female strengths have long-since been dismissed as weaker than male-dominated features. Even the terminology suggests this: soft, as opposed to hard. But as gender roles are gradually being sanded down and women are being acknowledged and employed for their skill and talent, men are showing an increasing ability to display soft skills – or perhaps society has given them permission to exhibit skills that have always been dormant.
Whatever the reason, we are in the middle of a social and professional renaissance in Uganda. The creativity in Uganda is being encouraged instead of stifled. We are the most entrepreneurial country in the world and Uganda is learning to foster and appreciate the individual skills that make that true. QG is a reflection of that.
Rather than stifle the need for soft skills, technology has thrown their importance into vivid relief. COVID-19 has underlined it. In a time where we’ve had to frugally dispose of everything unnecessary, we’ve realised the importance of soft skills. QG’s soft skills have blossomed in the digital era and refined in the forge of the pandemic. Soft does not equate weakness. In fact, soft skills are the most important to possess, the most difficult to nurture. And converse to what their name may suggest, soft skills are the hardest to kill.
Sonia Humura is a Content Guardian at QG Group.