Soft Skills are not So Soft

Question: Why do most so-called soft skills training initiatives fail to deliver results?
A question which many stakeholders ask today, and it created a huge and legitimate debate on the effectiveness of these types of training solutions provided in the Bahrain market today.

My humble answer is, there are four aspects to consider when it comes to designing, facilitating, assessing and measuring the impact of the (Soft Skills) courses: ( I will argue that the same is applicable to any course): 


1- Identifying the need: The lack of proper need identification by both the organization and training provider.

2- Design of the Course: The type of content covered in these type of courses.

3- Actual Facilitation: The trainer’s ability to facilitate an effective session.

4- Measuring Impact: The assessment process applied in such courses.


Let’s take the first element: (Need Identification)


This has few extreme cases, first the Organizations look at soft skills as a day off where employees leave the work to have fun, so sending employees is based on who needs few days off instead of who really needs this training to fulfill job requirements, the other extreme is they think it’s a magic wand where after attending the course they expect the employee to magically change attitude or behavior on the first day back to work, this is not how soft skills are embedded in the trainees’ mindsets. The other extreme is the organization’s failure to identify the proper level of individuals and basic entry requirements to attend these courses such as seniority level and language capabilities. 


On the other hand, training providers select off shelf solutions as requested by the client without checking the real purpose from doing the course, there is nothing wrong in giving a fun day out to the employees in form of an experiential learning activities such as (team building day) these in fact do offer value in its own merits, but such goals shouldn’t be confused by offering soft skills courses which are approved by MOL and audited by BQA. The training providers must act as partners and consultants to the organizations by identifying the actual needs and offering the right solution. 


The second element is (Designing the Course)


The type and content of soft skills course outlines offered in the market can be way better if the following considerations taken into place effectively: 


1- Assigning SMARTER Learning Objectives (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Relevant – Timed – Evaluated – Rewarding) , the objectives are appropriate to the level of the course and has clear measurable description of the context. (Training must be contextualized to the learners, job, industry and market)

2- Learning Material are updated, relevant, variety, accessible and focused

3- Learning activities are mapped to learning outcomes and material , activities are diverse, student centered, challenging and helps the learners to achieve the assigned learning outcomes. 

4- Assessments are aligned with learning outcomes, proper formative and summative assessment methods are used, clear and solid rubrics are designed and used rigorously, variety of assessment tools are used, having a proper differentiation plan to accommodate the learners and providing timely and helpful feedback to the learners throughout the process. 


The above can be effective when a professional instructional designer is on board when designing a course, an effective moderation process is in place and continuous review and improvement process is done by the course design/quality review committee/team at the training providers end, preferably done in partnership with the stakeholders (learners – employers – awarding bodies – auditors – subject matter experts and others)


The third element is (Facilitation of Learning)


The time where trainers stood in front of the class and lectured for hours is gone, long time ago, trainers must adapt a new approach in facilitating the learning sessions especially when it comes to soft skills courses, student/learner centered approach is crucial element, learners must be empowered to be accountable for their own learning process, many strategies can help in doing this such as flipped classrooms, project/problem based learning and using coaching competencies in facilitating these sessions. Trainers must work on developing active participation, critical thinking, social learning and facilitating relevant activities, being creative yet relevant in using facilitation tools and techniques, remove learning impediments for the learners and provide suitable support and feedback. 


Trainers must avoid wasting the course’s valuable time in long storytelling processes, long videos, lifeless slides, embedding long irrelevant games and shallow discussions. 

The fourth element is (Measuring Impact) 


This is the hard one, it’s heartbreaking when soft skills courses are evaluated on shallow evaluation criteria such as food! soft skills are more serious than that. 


Measurement for soft skills course impact must go beyond the actual course execution, these courses require assessments which are done over a longer time period, and can take various forms, such as direct manager’s feedback, on job observation, linking the skills to the employee KPIs and performance evaluation. Soft skills are related to behavioral and attitudinal changes, these can not be measured in the classroom during the course duration. 


Soft skills are not that soft! Although they are called soft, lots of “hard” work must be taken into consideration when initiating, designing, facilitating and measuring these types of courses. 

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