The need for soft skills in education

Comment by NATALIE BRETT, Head of London College of Communication

A bespoke washroom experience tailored for female students

Comment by SIAN WALKLING, Marketing Manager, Initial Washroom Hygiene

As someone who has worked in education for more than 15 years, I’m acutely aware of the pressure students are under to learn ‘hard skills’. Whether through government-funded STEM initiatives, universities’ grading criteria or job specs, the message to students is clear: hard skills get the job. But at what point did ‘soft skills’ fall off the radar? The emphasis to attain trained and technical skills has continued at the

expense of so-called soft skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills, perhaps partly due to the language we use to differentiate them. Calling technical skills “hard” reinforces the idea that they are more difficult to acquire and therefore more valuable in the workplace, whereas soft skills are seemingly easier to achieve and therefore less valuable. That belief, combined with the quantifiable nature of hard skills, makes them a perfect fit for formal education where grades denote standing and structure. However, both are crucial to long-term careers. Hard skills may secure the

job offer, but soft enable career progression. Despite the government’s current focus on STEM subjects across the UK education system, research continues to show the increasing demand for soft skills: take the recent move by tech companies such as Google, for example, whose seven top ‘characteristics of success’ for employees include intellectual curiosity, problem solving and critical thinking - all soft skills. While the digital revolution led to a focus on technical skills to future-proof

students’ careers, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that to overlook soft skills would be a huge mistake. Hard skills, often vulnerable to the rapid evolution of technology, automation and other market disruptors, can quickly become outdated and irrelevant. Businesses no longer require an employee to conduct the same work that a computer can do in a fraction of the time. Instead, automation is making soft skills, such as social and emotional intelligence, a valued commodity because they can’t be substituted. Interestingly, Google-commissioned research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, conducting four global surveys of business leaders, educators, and employers, found that the top skills most wanted across sectors are problem solving, collaboration, communication and creativity. If soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than hard skills, education

should reflect that balance. That’s why all three of our Design, Screen and Media schools at London College of Communication are committed to incorporating real-world experiences so that students actively develop soft skills as well as hard. In the Screen School, for instance, film students work alongside design and sound trainees in a fully-operational production house set-up, mimicking those of the industry. From our TalentWorks team, an internal placement organisation which offers students real-world projects to develop websites for local businesses, to degrees in emerging markets such as our new MA Virtual Reality, we prepare students for the future by developing the softer skills that will take them beyond technical practice. Increasing automation in the workforce shouldn’t be seen as a threat to

jobs, but rather an opportunity to refocus on and prioritise creative and social skills. If the role of educators is to prepare students for the future, then we must provide students with all the skills necessary to change and lead industries. By doing so, we ensure they’re not only equipped for the career roles of the future, but also able to gain a better understanding of the world around them, develop the ability to question the status quo, and, ultimately, change society for the better.

November 2018

Last month, Scotland became the first country in the world to make sanitary products freely available to all pupils and students, thanks to a new £5.2 million scheme for schools, colleges and universities. The move made by the Scottish government seeks to address the scourge of ‘period poverty,’ when girls and women struggle to afford basic sanitary products each month, which can in turn have a major effect on their hygiene, health and wellbeing. While a more severe problem in the developing world, ‘period

poverty’ is still present across the UK and can be defined as a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. In fact, a survey by Plan International UK revealed that 10% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary products; while 12% reported having to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.

Tackling period poverty One way to tackle period poverty is by offering free sanitary products to female washroom users. This can be achieved by placing a basket of products within the washroom. Another option is to provide access to products via a small dispenser within the cubicle, giving women the opportunity to dispense products for free and in private. Housed in a discrete, compact unit, typically located alongside the toilet roll holder, washroom users who cannot afford them or who have simply been caught unaware are provided with easy and free access to sanitary products. In 2017, 350,000 UK women and girls missed a day of work or

school because they did not have access to sanitary protection when they required it. In the future, it is hoped that girls and women will be able to leave the house with the confidence that they can rely on the necessary facilities to provide everything they need to go about their day in comfort.

Simplifying sanitary disposal for girls While providing access to products essential for sanitary hygiene, attention should also be given to providing a discrete and hygienic disposal service. Providing female washroom visitors with sanitary disposal units is a vital consideration for the maintenance of a clean and pleasant washroom environment. Ensuring you provide the right facilities within your washroom

cubicles will also encourage proper waste disposal. Hygiene units with automatic, or no-touch capabilities help to make sanitary disposal quick and easy, ensuring users can dispose of their waste in the most ecological way possible, rather than flushing potentially harmful waste down the toilet.

Sensitive disposal Where waste disposal units are required, it’s essential that collected waste can be disposed of both efficiently and sustainably. By employing a feminine hygiene waste disposal service, educational facilities can help to dispose of sanitary waste in a secure, sensitive and environmentally friendly way. It is also important to check that the approach you choose is fully compliant with UK regulations, such as the Water Industries Act (1991), and the Environmental Protection Act (1990). In this day and age, school days shouldn’t be missed because of a

lack of sanitary protection. Offering free sanitary hygiene products is a small, easy step that can be taken to prevent this happening in the future. 21

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