Yet soft skills have been undervalued or overlooked, and are still surrounded by myths such as: they are inherent and cannot be learned; they are secondary skills or non-essential; they only matter in customer service or client-facing positions; they are more commonly present in extraverts or certain groups of people; and they are equitable to language and communication skills. So what is the truth behind these myths- how important are “soft skills” and what are we willing to invest in developing them?
Introduced by Florence Rousseau, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, Magnet and moderated by Chantal Brine, CEO, EnPoint, the event featured panelists:
We encourage you to check out the organizations listed above and watch the recording of the session to form your own opinion on what stands out for you.
Here is our summary of key takeaways from the session:
1. What comes to mind when you think about ‘building future ready communities’?
Looking at the rate at which technology, knowledge and evidence change, to be future ready we need the ability to question what we know and the humble confidence to challenge our existing understanding.
Technology can make our jobs more efficient, but it does not eliminate the need for critical thinking, clinical reasoning and relationship skills.
We need to collaborate on goals and challenges, and work together to face them with a strong united voice.
The importance of meeting new people and having discussions on the challenges faced by business owners now and in the future.
A huge knowledge base will soon be leaving the workforce; one in five working adults is now nearing retirement. We need to build relationships with these professionals, whether in the form of mentorship, apprenticeship, or other, so that learnings, experiences, and skill sets can be passed on to different generations to help them prepare for the future.
Break the bias around “soft skills” to encourage people to be open minded and look for different ways that people can fit into the opportunities.
We are always looking to hire for the future and to do this we need to guide candidates through the recruitment process, encourage them to ask questions, give feedback, and create a plan to foster motivation and productivity.
2. What is the most memorable “success story” or “lesson learned” you’ve experienced when you think about how your organization/group has contributed to ‘building future ready communities’?
During the pandemic, relationships allowed Aurora College to pivot and provide alternative forms of education. As an example, the Personal Support Worker (PSW) Program is an opportunity for people to stay in their own community, and helps address the shortage of workers in the health care sector. People in the PSW program who had been isolated in their communities had difficulties coming to classes in-person, and so a proposal was put in place that would allow students to complete the course remotely from within their own communities. For the first time, students could work during the day at health centers or their local hospitals to achieve the practice component, while taking distance learning courses in the evening. The program is now a fantastic opportunity offered to multiple different communities in the North Western Territories.The first cohort for this remote course will be graduating in May 2022, and several other communities are requesting this opportunity.
Health care and nursing are practice based, so having graduates with hands-on experience is critical; however, COVID-19 made this difficult to achieve. While many other institutes found it difficult to find placements for students, Aurora College leveraged their relationships with local hospitals and other hospitals around the territory to allow students to gain practical experience.
The Chamber’s main mandate is to support local businesses and business owners. Local businesses are at the heart of the community- they hire locals, support locals, and put money back into the community through donations, sponsorship, etc. One to two times a year, the Chamber holds their Shop Local (#ShopNWT) campaign, and this year they were able to launch the campaign just as the pandemic restrictions were lifted on March 1st (the second annual #ShopNWT territorial shop local campaign will be launching June 14th – July 18th). The campaign creates opportunities for the Chamber to support businesses with free advertising and marketing.The feedback they received was positive as businesses were delighted to hear the Chamber encouraging commerce at a critical time when they needed the support.
Lessons learned and consideration for the future
During the pandemic, Venor worked closely with their clients and what they heard over and over again was employers asking ‘how do we help people navigate the new work environment?’ and exploring how their structures needed to shift to accomplish this.
A central theme centered around supporting or trainning employees in self-management, creating a structure for themselves (working remote), and managing time. In an office setting a supervisor is there to build the structure of your day, but remote work is very different. Employees needed additional help with the transition to work from home, a situation that is often more vulnerable for employees.
A second theme was around how to effectively communicate in this new way of working.
The impact increased remote work had on reducing employer bias was noted; whereas in the beginning of the pandemic employers commonly shared that they were worried that employees were not being productive working from home that has since shifted. An important lesson learned is that to effectively support employees as they pivot from a structured environment to remote settings, employers need to have conversations, ask questions and listen to their employees’ needs all along.
The importance of mutual problem solving in an employment setting was echoed across panelists, e.g. management and employees problem-solving together to work through the challenges and chaos in the world of work.
We need to prepare the graduates of tomorrow on how to communicate with people because everyone needs to have relationship skills regardless of industry.
Aurora Collect has a robust evaluation plan for most programs at the college. In the nursing program, they interview graduates after a full year to identify how prepared they were to enter the workforce. One thing that stands out that surprises their graduates is the applicability and value of the three relationship practice courses in their curriculum. These courses are about: Who am I? How do I relate to other people? How do I communicate and give feedback? How do I deal with differences and my own biases? These courses are intensive and can be challenging, because “soft skills” are actually “hard skills” and not easy to learn.
One graduate that was interviewed said that the relationship practice courses stood out because they can learn technical skills like how to manage equipment, but to have a conversation with a family whose family member is dying is extremely difficult.
Communicating with people, giving feedback and mentoring others is difficult but very important.
3. In your view, what do you see as the primary role that each of us has to play in building future ready communities?
Job seekers/ professionals should find opportunities to engage with the community and volunteer; volunteering is a great way for young people to gain skills and experience. It also provides opportunities for volunteers to have people who can vouch for them.
Businesses are facing difficulty with hiring people; it’s not just a matter of finding qualified candidates, getting them to apply is also a challenge. We need to continue to talk to organizations and identify the skill gaps remaining, then develop programs and/or courses to help talent build those relevant skill sets.
Labour in the service industry is often overlooked, but these employees have the potential to become lawyers, doctors, etc. An interesting fact is that some of the high performing nursing students from Aurora College that are able to care for multiple, very ill patients are those that have worked in the busy service industry in Yellowknife.
Some of the most common skill gaps are in trades (e.g., construction, electricians, etc.), the service industry, retail, aviation, etc. Labour shortage is a national issue.
Companies need to hire for at least 3-5 years for the future and put succession plans in place. They are acknowledging that strong technical candidates may need additional training, as well as the need to talk to their employees to identify their needs and desired future career paths.
From an education perspective, education today is about inquiry based learning and having difficult dialogues in the classroom. This and active problem solving are core skills required in the workforce.
Educators have the responsibility to help employers hire people with the right skills.
Collaboration needs to be done in a broader sense between industries, nonprofits, government, and community to provide education that is relevant to the North. For example, to address the lack of labour in health care, a suggestion was to increase the number of seats for nursing in post-secondary education institutions; while this can be done, the infrastructure, placement for practice, and nurses to mentor the additional students are also essential to ensure each student’s success.
4. What are the “soft-skills” that you’re hearing are valued in your industry?
Emotional intelligence (relationship skills, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills) is essential in the workforce.
Communication skills are critical in all industries. For example, engineering is a very technical field, but engineers who lack communication skills may be pigeon-holed with little opportunity for progression without professional development in this area.
Project management and financial literacy can be considered as a subcategory of non-technical skills that are essential in industries such as construction, manufacturing, engineering, etc.
It’s interesting to know that many of our panelists made comments on the different definitions of soft skills in their industries. A consideration for all of us is to be mindful of the industry when we are referring to non-technical skills.
A life-long learning mindset
5. What would be your biggest piece of advice to individuals in Canada trying to start and/or advance their careers and navigate the future of work?
Advice to Employees and Job Seekers
Foster a sense of inquiry and life long learning; question what you are hearing and learning, be prepared that things are going to change constantly and that you are never too old to learn.
Volunteer to gain relevant experience; for example, if you want to learn about event management, join events like the Folk on the rocks festival. If there is something you are not sure you want to do, or if you don’t want to take the financial risk of changing jobs, volunteer, take a course, or build a mentorship relationship.
Look for relevant mentorship opportunities in the industry; mentorship is a great way to learn from someone who already has experience in your field of interest. Through mentorship you can ask questions, gain advice, and better prepare yourself to launch or pivot your career.
Step out of your comfort zone and build your network; don’t let the fear of rejection keep you from reaching out to people.
Mindfulness and self-awareness are essential “soft skills”; being able to assess yourself and identify the amount of tasks you can manage so that you do not burn out.
Advice to Employers
Many employees prefer remote work and do not want to return to the 9-5 grind in the office; employers have to pivot to ask questions, learn more, and then adapt a work model that better motivates employee productivity in today’s new world.
Plan for the future, now, and help employees do that for their careers; help them understand that they’re not responsible for building careers alone.
Employers need to be forward thinking and design flexible and innovative ways to make jobs more appealing to candidates.
With the COVID-19 restrictions lifted, labor mobility will enable candidates to more easily move to a different location to take job offers that they would not have been able to previously take.
People are looking for more than just the job, they are looking for meaningful work at organizations that give back to the community (e.g., through green initiatives, event sponsorship, donations to nonprofits, etc.).
Think about how you can use volunteering as a way to give young professional and jobseekers experience and act as a reference for these folks – and meet potential talent!
The importance of mentorship as a means of showing your employees that you care about them and want to support them. Graduates are looking to work in places where they will get the support they need. They want to know that they have colleagues with experience they can turn to for guidance. Employers need to think about how to not only help new graduates transition into the workplace, but also how to achieve a work-life balance; graduates want to “work to live” not “live to work”.
6. Any parting words of wisdom, calls to action, or questions for consideration you’d like to pose to our audience?
Whether you are a recent graduate or a candidate looking to progress in your career, look at the leadership of your current/ potential company and the “soft skills” that they bring to the table to understand the culture of the workplace.
You are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you, so it’s important to identify if the company’s values align with yours and if they are going to put in the time and resources to help you get to where you want to go in your career.
Job opportunities are everywhere; find opportunity through the chaos. If you are looking for a new job or thinking of exploring a new career, now is the time to do so. Take your time to find a company that is going to make a positive influence in your life.
You need to ask yourself how you can be a lifelong learner and adopt a growth mindset.
Think about the different courses you can take online now, or from an employer’s perspective, think of the different training opportunities now readily available for your employees. There are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), micro-credentialing, and so many other opportunities that you can take advantage of to better prepare for the future workforce.
7. What are some resources, books, Ted Talks, or podcasts, that have been instrumental in shaping your view on the future of work?
A key takeaway from the discussion was that while people think “soft skills” are easy to learn, they are actually “hard skills”. Relationship and communication skills are difficult to learn, yet they are foundational skills needed in every industry.
Our panelists also discussed the importance of lifelong learning to think and do things differently than how you have done in the past, and of being vulnerable and self aware to better understand what you are lacking and how you can grow yourself and build valuable skill sets.
Guiding discussion questions:
What is one “soft skill” myth that you would love to bust or that you have busted in your organization or through a project?
What foundational/ non-technical skills are you seeing the most demand for in your industry?
What benchmarks, success stories and/or resources discussed by the panelists can you adapt/apply to your organization and/or community?
4. What is one thing your organization is continuously iterating on to adopt or advance your use of technology?
About the panelists:
Jennifer Phillips, Executive Director, Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce
Jennifer was born in Manitoba and grew up in Ontario, but has called Yellowknife home since 2016. Jennifer started her professional career with the Federal Government of Canada in 2002, relocating to Yellowknife in 2016.
During her time in Yellowknife, Jennifer has had the opportunity to travel to many of the 33 Northern communities. She has recently finished her Masters’ Degree in Political Science at Brock University. Jennifer looks forward to continuing her previous years of community and volunteer service here in Yellowknife, and remains committed to supporting the local arts and business community.
Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce
Established in 1973, the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce (NWT Chamber) is the largest and most broadly – based business organization North of 60, with representation from every region of the NT. Working in association with the network of community chambers in Inuvik, Norman Wells, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Thebacha and Yellowknife, the NWT Chamber represents the interests of members across the NT. For over 45 years we have been the only pan-territorial voice of businesses across all sectors of the northern economy.
The NWT Chamber provides services through 3 core objectives: Member Service & Marketing, Policy Positions and Advocacy Services, Administration and Governance. The NWT Chamber works to promote and create business opportunities, foster business development, and serve as a channel for professional business relationships between members, all levels of governments and business organizations. Working with the Community Chambers, Territorial business organizations and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the NWT Chamber advocates and lobbies all levels of government on issues and initiatives impacting the business community in the NWT.
Dr. Kerry Lynn Durnford, Program Head, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Post-BSN, Aurora College
Dr. Kerry Lynn Durnford has been an educator at Aurora College, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for 20 years and is currently the Program Head for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and post Registered Nursing programs in the School of Health & Human Services, and a certified nurse educator from the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing. Kerry Lynn attained a registered nursing diploma from the General Hospital School of Nursing, and undergraduate and masters of nursing degrees from Memorial University of Newfoundland. She completed a doctorate in education from Western University in 2019, where she focused on student persistence and success in post-secondary education.
Aurora College delivers programs and courses as close to the communities as possible. This is achieved through a network of three regional campuses as well as Community Learning Centres in most of our communities. They offer a broad range of programming, from Developmental Studies to certificate, diploma and degree programs. Their programs and services give our students the vocational and professional skills, communication skills and life skills needed for success in their chosen careers.
Aurora College has begun the journey to transform into a polytechnic university with the goal of opening in 2025. The polytechnic university will combine academic excellence with practical hands-on learning, please join us on this exciting journey.
Aurora College serves a population of 45,000 dispersed across 1.3 million square kilometres in 33 communities in the Northwest Territories. A majority of Aurora College students are Indigenous. Many of their students are from small, remote communities.
As a recent Partner and one of the first employees with Venor, Erika leads the engineering, construction and operations division for Atlantic Canada. She has more than 16 years of recruitment experience working from mid level positions up to executive level in Engineering, Manufacturing, Construction and other industries within Atlantic Canada. Although currently based in Atlantic Canada, she began her career in Alberta, where she moved shortly after graduating from Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree and a Certificate in Human Resource Management. She loves the ever-changing challenges involved in what she does and thrives when meeting and working with diverse clients and companies. She is proud to say that she has moved more than two dozen Atlantic Canadians back home for job opportunities.
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