• Wong Wing Lum

Future of Work | 7 Most In-Demand Soft Skills By Singapore Employers

Updated: Feb 26

We gave an overview of why soft skills matter in our 5W1H guide. In this article, we dive into what are the soft skills that Singapore employers are looking for and how you can start to build them.

With rapid globalisation and an increasingly educated workforce, competition has been toughening long before the pandemic hit. Economic indicators have consistently reflected a Singapore economy faced with challenging circumstances. COVID-19 was the final nail to the coffin.

While people have always talked about the importance of soft skills, its urgency and absolute necessity can be felt today. In an uncertain post-pandemic economy, soft skills such as adaptability and creative problem-solving are likely going to make the difference in whether a business sinks or swims.

There are overlaps in recurring mentions of soft skills that Singapore employers are looking for (read this Straits Times Op-ed that provides a landscape view on skills and this CNBC article on how mid-career workers are upskilling). We have found the most comprehensive sweep to be NTUC LearningHub’s Employer Skills survey.

Conducted during Singapore’s Circuit Breaker (April 2020), the survey identifies 10 soft skills that businesses are actively seeking as their top priority.

No surprise there that adaptability and resilience skills take the number 1 seat
And of course, digital skills are in-demand with remote work the new norm

With the ‘work-from-home’ era set to stay, it’s also worth mentioning that skillsets in web design (31%) and digital marketing (44%) are amongst the top 10 digital skills identified. A not-so-subtle plug, but while you’re here, check out the courses we have Hatch to help you find employment in these thriving sectors!

Without further ado, here are the 7 soft skills that Singapore employers are looking for (2020 edition)

1. Communication

Communication soft skills cover a two-way street: to convey ideas clearly and to listen empathetically to others.

To convey

Great communicators take nuanced approaches when interacting with others in different situations. Take for instance team project discussions which can sometimes lead to unproductive or hurtful clashes of perspectives. An individual who is skilled in communication can tactfully deliver his disagreement while avoiding conflict. Based on their knowledge of their audience’s response, they can adjust their communication styles to articulate ideas with precision and extra sensitiveness when needed.

To listen

Good communicators are also active listeners. This means they put in conscious effort to comprehend what the speaker is saying. While they are at it, they keep an open mind towards new ideas because they seek first to empathise. In the long-term, this establishes rapport and builds trust between colleagues and stakeholders.

For our non-native Chinese speakers, this is the traditional chinese character for "listen"

Some tactics of active listening:

  • Paraphrasing what was said to clarify understanding

  • Asking questions

  • Not interrupting and jumping straight to problem-solving mode

Digital and Non-verbal communication

Digital communication via emails, instant messaging platforms and video conferencing platforms is an undeniable mode of communication in the 21st century working world. Even in written text, subtle cues in tonality are reflective of an individual’s professionalism and friendliness.

Communication can also be implicit through body language and gestures, tonality and facial expressions. Experts generally agree that non-verbal communication makes up 70-93% of all our communication cues. While these reflexes are often involuntary, good communicators can maintain control over their upspoken cues even at the peak of their frustration.

Tips to improve communication skills:

Empathy is the root of effective communication. To understand why people respond in the ways that they do (and vice versa), we must first condition ourselves to be more sensitive to our surroundings. This is where Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – the ability to recognise, understand and manage one’s emotions and those around them – comes into play.

Improve your EQ by slowing your thoughts down. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman explains that our brains are wired to form opinions readily, even if there’s insufficient information. We read body language and involuntarily assess the situation at face value. The tendency to jump to conclusions is simply how we are programmed to maximise cognitive ease.

Snap judgment can be avoided by training your mind to be responsive. This means that whenever disagreements arise, assess the situation and think about the ‘why’. Instead of reacting instantly, learn to evaluate the situation. Understand how you’re feeling as well as others. Review the facts and get a better overview of the situation.

As for non-verbal, written communication, here are some tactics on how you can choose kindness when replying to emails that make you want to scream.

2. Work Ethic

Work ethics is an ensemble of moral principles that reflects the degree to which an employee takes ownership of their work. Examples of values include integrity, honesty, punctuality, and discipline. These individuals hold themselves to high standards in their overall conduct – whether it is to meet deadlines or to follow through with their assignments dutifully.

Having work ethics soft skills is not about being perfect. It’s about being accountable. Those with strong work ethics are self-starters who can be depended on to deliver quality work on time without the need of a supervising authority. Their relentless dedication to their roles shines through in their eagerness to learn. Driven by a commitment beyond their personal goals but that of the company at-large, they are always on the look-out to suggest better ways of working.

Even when they are not asked to, they will put in the extra leg work needed to succeed.

Tips to improve work ethic:

You can foster more ownership by taking more initiative, even if it lies outside of your job scope. When you do so, there’s a shift in mindset towards accountability to achieve the desired outcome. Building a sustainable work ethic goes beyond merely conscientiously following through with tasks. It calls on individuals to truly believe in the importance of what they are doing. When people know what’s the grand vision they are working towards, they can start to truly own their work.

If possible, sit down with leaders to align the values they consider important with your personal code of conduct. For instance, punctuality may be viewed as a crucial factor in some companies, while others may focus more on an employee’s output in place of physical presence. After outlining the values, make a conscious effort to uphold these standards.

3. Teamwork

Let’s think of soccer. Every member of the team – from the midfielders, strikers, defenders and goalkeepers – has a specific role to play when setting up that winning shot. It may seem like the most significant contribution was from the striker in scoring the goal, but it’s the cumulative effort of the team members that make the victory possible.

Translating this from the soccer field to the workplace, teamwork soft skills are the result of effective communication and good work ethics. Productive teams are clear in who brings what to the table and how their skillsets can complement one another to get the job done. At the base of it, relationships between members are built on trust that every individual pulls their weight.

Because of this mutual respect, team players can work harmoniously even if they don’t see eye to eye with one another.

Effective teamwork is also dependent largely on EQ. Individuals with a keen sense of interpersonal acumen can assess the dynamics within the team and adjust their communication style accordingly. They know exactly when to step up to steer a discussion towards the right direction, or when to dial it down a notch and lift others up.

Tips to improve teamwork skills:

What do you see when you look yourself in the mirror?

To be a good player, you must first succeed on an individual level. Exercise some introspection to suss out your strengths and areas of improvement. Similarly, you should understand your teammates’ strengths. Teams that work well together are those who understand how they can play to the strengths of every member.

On a management level, leaders can build stronger teams by crafting goals and monitoring their members’ milestones.

The SMART framework can serve as a guide on how to craft achievable goals focused on outcomes. Goalsetting helps to set everyone in the right frame of mind so that individuals know exactly what they are working towards. On top of setting objectives, leaders should also define the standard of excellence for different roles. In doing so, team members have a clear vision of what’s expected of them.

Of course, the best of both worlds would be a team that delivers professionally and also gets along personally. To begin building trust and rapport among team members, start strengthening interpersonal relationships between members. The blob tree is a great communication tool to help teams articulate their feelings and bridge their understanding of one another.

4. Problem-solving

Problem-solving is the mindset to approach, analyse and effectively solve difficult or unexpected obstacles with a level-headed mentality. Competence in other soft skills such as communication, work ethics and teamwork directly impact one’s problem-solving capabilities. Active listening and empathy pave the way to truly unearthing a problem’s root cause, while work ethic drives the diligence to cover all grounds.

You’ll find that many soft skills guides tend to use critical thinking, creative thinking and analytical thinking synonymously with problem-solving. For clarity, think of the abovementioned three as subskills. ‘Solving a problem’ is the end result you get from applying the three ways of thinking.

Among the subskills, there are also distinct differences that set them apart.

There are generally four standard steps to approach any problems.

  1. Identifying the “why”: The first step to solving any problem is to sieve out its root cause. To do so, individuals must learn to gather and analyse data. At this point, it’s crucial to be armed with the technical capabilities of interpreting data and identifying patterns.

  2. Generating ideas: Once the causes identified, the next step is to ideate. Build a picture of what is the desired outcome (goals) and the barriers preventing the goal from being reached.

  3. Evaluating solutions: It’s enticing to settle for an obvious solution that can be implemented quickly, but is it the best strategy? Do a thorough sweep to analyse each solution in-depth. Some factors to consider: Novelty, sustainability, resourcing, long-term feasibility and stakeholder interests.

  4. Implementation and monitoring: After evaluating and settling on a course of action, it’s time to test them. Document the entire process, with special attention paid to any hits and misses. Problem-solving is an iterative process and you should make changes to the plan as it progresses.

Tips to improve problem-solving skills:

A systematic way of improving problem-solving skills is to use strategic frameworks. The 5 Whys (5Ys) is a method that teases out the root cause of any problem. How it works is to dig deeper into any problem by repeatedly asking “why”.

A possible solution could be for you to take the initiative to talk to your supervisor about what you want to do. Understanding that it may be a stressful time for her, come up with a detailed plan to make it easier for her to trust the responsibilities with you.

Without progressively asking why, it’s easy to just solve workplace unhappiness by pulling the plug on your job. The 5Ys framework is thus effective in differentiating a symptom from its root cause.

Explore 35 other problem-solving frameworks here.

5. Growth Mindset

Ever had classmates who were fearless to participate? Class participation enthusiasts aside, think about those who genuinely engaged for the sake of their learning. A recurring observation is that they may not always have the right answers, yet their curiosity and confidence stand resolute. It’s easy to conclude that they were simply unafraid to sound stupid, but they are in fact grounded by a growth mindset.

A growth mindset is a frame of thinking that allows individuals to reflect their capabilities as a work-in-progress. It’s looking upon abilities as skills developed and refined through hard work. That said, a growth mindset is not about blindly staying positive just because you are putting in consistent hard work. It’s also about exercising flexibility learning how you can do things differently. Someone with a growth mindset would say: “Sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something”. In the long run, this mentality fosters career resilience.

Be wise, listen to Jake the Dog

To better visualise what a growth mindset captures, let’s contrast it with a fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset posits that one’s abilities are inherent and static. In other words, it’s polarised – you are or you are not. The rigidity of this mindset is reflective of their psychological and behavioural response whenever they struggle. It could sound something like: “I’m just not good at this, why am I even trying?”.

Tips to improve growth mindset:

If you’re looking to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset, the first step is to rewire your interpretation of effort. Conventionally, effort is shunned as a mark of unintelligence. Only those who are not naturally inclined require the additional labour to produce the same output, right?

When you believe that your abilities are already set in stone, you’re effectively limiting the potential of what you can become. Every opportunity to reinvent yourself is sorted into a dichotomy: either an unattainable task or reinforcement to notions that you are already familiar with. A growth mindset instead grounds us on the belief that with sufficient hard work, anyone can grow into whatever they want to be.

Building a growth mindset is a journey. Sometimes our insecurities get the better of us when we meet people who seem effortlessly brilliant in everything they do. When that happens, it’s important to unpack and work through the triggers behind our feelings of inadequacy.

Actions you can take to develop a growth mindset:

  • Be strategic in taking on tasks that challenge you. Think clearly about the areas that you want to grow in and commit once you’ve set your mind to it.

  • Carve out time to periodically reflect on your progress and goals.

  • Focus on your own learning journey, as opposed to seeking out recognition from others.

  • Change how you speak to change how you think. Instead of “I can’t”, say “I’ll try”. Replace “mistake” with “learning”. Whenever a task seems too daunting to accomplish, quantify the resources and state the action plan you need to succeed.

6. Adaptability

Adaptability reflects how well someone embraces unexpected situations and new ways of working. The trick here lies in the word ‘embrace’. Being adaptable is not just about knowing how to stay afloat when flung into the deep abyss. There’s also an element of willingness to respond to challenges with an open mindset.

With the global disruption across all industries alike due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adaptability is indisputably one of the most in-demand soft skills. Adaptable workers are flexible to take on extra responsibilities when needed and are swift to react to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Time and stress management are crucial skillsets of adaptable individuals. Despite the high stakes, they are able to keep a cool head, compartmentalise their emotions and prioritise their workload to manage deadlines.

Tips to improve adaptability:

A significant part of being adaptable is fuelled by a growth mindset. When every experience is perceived as an opportunity to grow, the fear of failing becomes less daunting. This spurs us on to take more risks and explore new territory.

Moving out of your comfort zone is scary, but that's how you grow | Credit: People HR Solutions

Stepping out of your comfort zone means that you’re no longer surrounded by what’s predictable to you. That’s when you move into the learning zone and increase the scope of experiences that you can thrive in. Mastering adaptability is a lifelong journey. As you rope in new experiences, you redefine the boundaries of what you’re familiar with. Then, the cycle to venture into the unknown begins again.

Actions you can take to be more adaptable:

  • Practice confidence in spontaneity. Learn to improvise and shut down any barking remnants of self-doubt when proposing unconventional ideas.

  • Be a yes man when it comes to going into uncharted waters. Take baby steps to rewire your mindset in welcoming change.

  • Break your routine and stretch yourself by adopting new ideas, learning new skills and actively seeking out challenges at work.

7. Leadership

Think about the leaders who have left an impression in your life (yes, even the lacklustre ones). What were some of the traits they possessed that contributed to your perception of them?

Leadership is defined simply as the ability to make effective decisions when push comes to shove, but good leaders go beyond just getting things done. Contrary to popular belief, everyone, not just those in positions of power, can exhibit leadership.

Exceptional leadership is the culmination of the abovementioned soft skills. Leaders can manage workplace relationships through specialised communication skillsets in negotiation, delegation and conflict resolution. In a team setting, they can subtly exert their influences while balancing everyone else’s input. They learn to be strategic in toggling between a macro and micro perspective to solve problems efficiently while ensuring its alignment with the company’s grand vision. Above all, they are able to swiftly make decisions in response to change, leading a company through turbulence and disruption.

Tips to improve leadership skills:

Reflection is a crucial step in leadership development. If you’re unsure where you can get started, you can find out your leadership style and how you can improve on those abilities with this free leadership quiz and resource guide by Skills You Need.

Experts (and leaders themselves) have consistently highlighted the value of journaling for leadership. Founder of JotDown Aytekin Tank personally attributes journaling as a “major contributing factor” to the success of his software company. In his Entrepreneur article, he defines reflection as an “intentional thought dedicated to evaluating observations and experiences, considering alternative outcomes and interpretations and attributing meaning to inform decisions in the future.”

Reflection thus helps us to tap into valuable insights that can guide innovation in decision-making for the future.

Commit as little as 15 minutes before you end your day to hold an honest conversation with yourself. Reflect on the day’s events, where you think you’ve done well and where you could’ve done better. Every now and then, take a step back and view your career from a macro perspective. What drives your sense of purpose? The hallmark of great leadership is infectious to its followers, communicated through their genuine passion for what they do.

Here are more resources – from online training courses to books and podcasts – on how you can further brush up on your leadership skills.

Wrapping up

It’s great that you have soft skills, but how do you make them enticing selling points in resumes or interviews?

We’ve got you covered.

Head over here to learn how to integrate your soft skills into your CVs and here to access a crazy list of interview questions testing each soft skill (thank you, Workable!).

It seems simple enough that improving your soft skills starts from a mindset change. Yet, moving into actual behavioural change and cultivation of habits is a tough journey to walk.

Give it a few years, it’s an investment that will take you farther in your professional and personal lives.

Hatch is an impact-focused training and job placement enterprise. We believe that learning and job fulfilment should be accessible to all, and that's why we write articles like this.

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