Posted by on April 28, 2017

Comment by Limbani Eliya Nsapato

Edukans International, Country Representative for Malawi, Lilongwe

I would like to congratulate Priti Sharma for writing a lucid article which describes the importance of soft skills with special focus on the youth and the non-formal education system. I also congratulate the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) for its efforts in bridging the gaps that exist today with regard to soft skills.

I wish to agree that the importance of soft skills cannot be overemphasised. This is based on evidence from various studies and conferences. For instance, in Malawi lack of soft skills or transferrable skills is considered one of the reasons why many graduates are unemployed (AFIDEP, 2016)). A study by Jones et al (2016) in Malawi also demonstrated that inspirational talk had a positive effect on HIV testing especially among males. A 2013 global study established that there was general consensus that soft skills are a powerful indicator of long-term success, with 85% success rate compared to 25% for hard skills (IYC, 2013). The same study also noted that new hires lacked communication skills and struggled with time management skills (organizational and prioritization skills) regardless of their level of education or position. In addition many entry-level employees lacked customer service and interpersonal skills, making collaboration with colleagues and problem-solving among team members difficult (IYC, 2013). The need for soft skills among youth was empathised in a study which showed that one of the reasons unemployment was higher among the youth was that they often lacked of skills (Yu, 2012). A study done in Benin, Senegal, Kenya and Burkina Faso, showed that employers preferred candidates who were better in soft skills (Results for Development, 2012).

In light of the evidence cited above it is imperative that soft skills should be taken seriously. At the same time, however, there is need to strike a balance between soft skills and hard skills, given that all employers look for a varying mix of non-cognitive or technical skills (depending on the sector) (Results for Development, 2012).

The demand for soft skills like in South East Asia is high even in Sub Saharan Africa, given the high illiteracy figures especially among older women and younger girls. A factsheet produced by UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UNESCO UIS) in 2016 showed that 26% of all illiterate adults lived in sub-Saharan Africa, second to South East Asia (51%). And that the GPI was 0.77 among adults and 0.86 among youth, representing the lowest in the world (UNESCO UIS, 2016). The challenge was more acute for the young people, who were not in education, employment or training (NEET) and lack the necessary soft skills—communication, teamwork and customer service—to qualify them for available jobs on the market (IYC, 2013).

I would like to say something about the scope of soft skills. I do agree that the range of skills to be promoted should include work ethics, attitude, communication skills, emotional intelligence and a whole host of other personal attributes such as  critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. In Africa we need a mix of this but more so the ethics and morals, critical thinking, and leadership given the high levels of corruption and conflict situations on the continent.  Corruption, especially, is robbing the continent of the hard earned cash needed for development. Estimates show that African countries annual lose at least $50 billion annually due to corruption and illicit financial flows ($148 billion a year (UNECA, 2015). The recent leadership impasse in the Gambia after the presidential election showed that there was need to foster leadership and governance skills among the people of Africa. Furthermore, Africa needs to invest more in entrepreneurship skills to address the high levels of unemployment on the continent and in critical thinking skills to question the often autocratic leaderships in many countries.  Thus, the nature and scope of soft skills taught among the youth and others should reflect the country context.
It would be important for education systems to play a critical role in promoting soft skills within the policy and curriculum framework especially for secondary and Technical vocational education and training (TEVET), where much emphasis is on hard skills. Much effort should be given to the informal economy given that  most workers are self-employed and have to carry out a very wide range of tasks (Results for Development, 2012). Following the adoption of the 2030 Education Agenda, it will be imperative for governments to undertake policy and curriculum reviews to incorporate soft skills within their education systems. However, once incorporated, the next issue would be the delivery and also assessment of the skills since these require nuanced approaches. For instance, according to a study carried out in Nigeria, assessing soft skills requires a combination of direct and indirect assessment methods, which is not easy for many teachers (Durowoju, 2014). Furthermore, delivery mechanisms should combine both traditional and non-traditional mechanism like through e-learning which is big challenge in many developing countries especially in Africa where Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) infrastructure is weak (IYC, 2013). Moreover,  there is need for education systems to ensure adequate financing for education in general and for incorporation of soft skills programmes in particular, given the challenge of financing rocking many governments.
In conclusion, it should be re-stated that “soft skills” are critical for sustainable development of many countries, and given that such skills are yet to be incorporated in many countries’ education systems there is need for a lot of advocacy (by civil society) and partnership development (with private sector) to ensure full incorporation. Once again, many thanks for this stimulating topic.
AFIDEP, 2016, Experts call for curriculum reforms to integrate transferable skills in Malawi’s Tertiary Education.
Durowoju, Esther (2014), Best Practices and Experiences in Soft Skills Assessment in Oyo Town, Oyo State Schools , University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

IYC (2013), Getting Youth in the Door: Defining Soft Skills Requirements for Entry-level Service Sector Jobs.
Jones, Maria; Victor Orozco; &  Rascon-Ramirez, 2016, Hard Skills or Soft Talk: Unintended consequences of a vocational training and an inspirational talk on childbearing and sexual behavior in vulnerable youth.
Results for Development, 2012, Innovative Secondary Education For Skills Enhancement (ISESE)

United Nations Economic commission For Africa (UNECA), 2015, Innovative Financing for Transformation of Africa, Addis Ababa: UNECA.
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UNESCO UIS), 2016, Factsheet September 2016 50th Anniversary Of International Literacy Day:
Yu, Derek (2012), Youths in the South African labour market since the transition: A study of changes between 1995 and 2011, Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers: 18/12


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