Hard - and soft - skills needed for job and career success

As a career coach with over 18 years of experience, my observation is that, contrary to the negative findings by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, older Singaporeans aged 45 to 65 are not faring that badly in the three areas benchmarked - literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills ("'Skills gap' between younger and older workers" and "Brush up or lose out: Message for older adults"; both published last Wednesday).

Many of the people I coach hold relatively senior and high-responsibility positions in the companies they work in.

It is reasonable to attribute their career success to an adequate-enough, if not high, level of competency in the three areas.

There is a variety of reasons why older job seekers face challenges in re-employment. Not having kept themselves updated with changes at the workplace, new knowledge and relevant skills is one of them. Age-related hiring discrimination is another.

Employability and career success also depend on other factors, such as proficiency in soft skills. These include the ability to understand and manage one's emotions and be empathetic towards others - in particular being culturally sensitive - as well as one's ability to manage and bounce back from adverse situations, among others.

One's competency in both hard and soft skills is acquired in the classroom as well as at the workplace. Education has some, but not an overwhelming, degree of influence on one's productivity and employability. The focus on academic training must remain, though.

Given the pace of changes globally, businesses and the workplace will continue to face challenges, and these will include corporate restructuring and job loss.

There are three pertinent points to note. First, career success is never a given, and second, knowledge and skills acquisition needs to be a lifelong journey if one desires to remain relevant and employable, regardless of age or career stage.

Lastly, we need to hold tightly to the values of hard work and perseverance - the very ones that brought us, over the last 50 years, to where we are today ("Tharman to bosses: Culture of perseverance, hard work key"; June 18).

Paul Heng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Hard - and soft - skills needed for job and career success'. Print Edition | Subscribe