What Are Soft Skills in Education?

what are soft skills in education

What Are Soft Skills in Education?

While universities have delivered academic excellence for centuries, business and public sector employers now demand excellent soft skills from graduates. They lament a disconnect and inability to perform in the workplace despite exemplary professional expertise. But what are soft skills in education and how can higher education staff lead the way in excelling? This article examines the drive toward making soft skill mastery a core higher education objective.

In business, outstanding soft skills have long been a cornerstone for anyone with serious career ambitions. Companies and individuals have been pursuing soft skill excellence through workshops and staff training, meaning anyone lacking in this area will invariably find themselves left behind. While professional expertise still reigns supreme, soft skills like problem-solving, communication, and teamwork, to name but a few, are increasingly in demand. Candidates with a proven soft skill mastery record have much-improved chances of promotion or securing top-salary positions. 

In higher education, the discussion about soft skills is in its infancy. After focusing on churning out highly knowledgeable graduates, colleges have taken onboard employer feedback, reporting dissatisfaction with graduates’ ability to be effective in the workplace due to a lack of experience and soft skills. As to the question ‘What are soft skills in education?’, the debate is now alive and well. 

The EU has rowed in behind the discussion and made research funding available. GRASS (Grading Soft Skills), a 3-year research project with EU funding, examines how students at different levels and ages apply soft skills during their studies and on completion, at the workplace. With the support of the EU’s flagship education project LLP (Lifelong Learning Project), the soft skill research demonstrates the value educational professionals now attribute to developing them. 

For higher education staff and academics, acquiring and passing on excellent soft skills has become a central objective.

What Are Soft Skills in Education?

Let’s look at the soft skills deemed indispensable in academic circles, both for professionals in the sector and the student body.


Clear and concise communication streamlines any workflow, be it in business or the educational workplace. While the concept is self-explanatory, professionals must work on effective communication as it does not come without investing time and effort.

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts arise, and professionals must know how to tackle them and create mutually satisfactory resolutions. Again one may be tempted to assume anybody can overcome disagreements, however, the workplace reality often does not bear out this assumption. When coming to grips with this soft skill, students learn how to identify issues, assess and refine existing conflict resolution methods, tackle escalated disputes, and create preventative resources.


Creativity is an invaluable soft skill on multiple levels, flowing not only into task management and delivery but also into problem-solving and work procedure establishment. Creativity thus represents a modus operandi underpinning every action in every situation. Professionals with a creative approach are a cut above the rest as they promote growth and overcome roadblocks creatively.

Decision Making

Any workplace or business relies on fearless decision-makers. As a result, decision-making now ranks among the most crucial soft skills for professionals in any industry. In higher education, professionals must be confident in their ability to make small and big decisions concerning work procedures, management, and student study and welfare. 

When acquiring this skill, course participants practice weighing options, making choices, and following up with assertive decisions. 


Adaptability and flexibility are crucial in an evolving workplace. Circumstances may change and problems arise, meaning staff in any industry must be capable of persevering in adversity and applying the necessary flexibility. Only extensive work experience or in-depth soft skill training can equip professionals with the adaptability they require almost daily. 


As to employability, leadership ranks high on the soft skill requirement list. Professionals with great leadership skills can transform workplaces, inspire teams, and harness the strength of individuals. In education, stellar leadership among lecturers and administrative staff ensures that institutions evolve organically in line with societal changes and business growth. Professionals with strong leadership skills are in high demand in any sector.

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

This soft skill refers to a professional’s ability to identify problems and conceive new ways of solving them. Crafting fresh strategies, finding underlying causes, and planning to overcome operational obstacles combine into much sought-after competencies, priceless in any workplace. 

Higher education institutions must offer training in this area to students to ensure they can make quality contributions to their work settings. Inside the institutions, HE staff and academics require outstanding problem-solving skills to deliver excellence while passing it on to their learners. 

Work Ethic

Discipline, punctuality, a willingness to work hard, and reliability combine into a solid work ethic, much in demand in any workplace. Professionals lacking work ethic are less effective, negatively impacting their workplace and organisation. 

Day-to-day, a good work ethic translates into arriving on time for meetings, being accountable, and going the extra mile when the situation demands it. 

Stress Management

Today’s fast-paced work environment puts considerable strain on individuals. Only professionals with exemplary stress management coping mechanisms can survive and thrive, thus becoming the cornerstones of their organisations. 

Recent years have seen a lively discussion and a well of stress management tools emerge. As a result, stress management is one of the top priorities of today’s professionals.  

Teambuilding, Emotional Intelligence, and Empathy

The best teams perform better than the sum of its parts, meaning effective teamwork combines the individuals’ skills and raises the work to the next level. Teambuilding is key to identifying strengths, weaknesses, and outstanding talents for the better of the team. 

It goes without saying that teamwork is only feasible against a backdrop of emotional intelligence and empathy. Sharpening these soft skills delivers innumerable benefits to businesses and organisations. 

In education, these skills come even more to the fore as educators, administrators, and students collaborate in many different ways. 

The Most In-Demand Soft Skills in Higher Education

So, what are soft skills in education? The above-listed core soft skills play into all aspects of the educational workplace, with team building, communication, and creativity a cut above the rest. Regardless of whether the objective is to pass on soft skills to students or to use them to improve institutional workflows, soft skills must become a central subject in higher education. 

Not only will employers be more satisfied with graduates but educational workplaces and higher education as a whole will reap significant rewards.

EU Funded Soft Skills Project

One of the most interesting soft skill-related research projects for higher education was, in part,  conducted at the University of Limerick. The EU-backed project sought to promote the teaching of soft skills to students after repeated negative feedback from industry leaders and employers. 

As part of the project ‘Identifying, Developing and Grading Soft Skills in Education’ scientists sought to determine what soft skills scale graduate employability while finding instruction methods and a reliable grading system. 

The cross-nation study introduced a series of soft skill badges students can gain to demonstrate relevant capabilities. Badges are awarded using a technology-based grading system. Following the 3-year research project, participating experts reiterated the need to equip graduates with soft skills while emphasising the continuing demand to develop a sound assessment system. 

How Higher Education Staff and Academics Must Lead the Way

Much of how graduates perform in their first post-study position hinges on their college education. Aside from the hard skills and expertise they have mastered, their on-campus experience of the educational workplace shapes their approach to work and determines their professionalism. 

Rightly, higher education institutions are endeavouring to pass on soft skills in a quantifiable and effective way thus preparing graduates for truly gainful employment and lustrous careers.