In the Wake of the Pandemic: A Take on Soft and Hard Skills

By Amelia Tran, Officer of Research

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed and accelerated the need for new workforce skills, which has prompted college students and young professionals to adapt to rapidly changing roles and activities and to make themselves the most outstanding candidates in the tight job market. To understand how well female students at Northeastern University (NEU/the University) perceive and are prepared for the aforementioned reskilling and upskilling, Women in Business (WIB) conducted a 35-question survey about soft and hard skills in October of 2021. As 96 percent of our 65 female participants major in Business Administration, all of whom are WIB members, the survey findings might not be applicable to other majors at NEU or generalized.

According to a pioneering study by psychologists Barry Schlenker and Mark Leary, our self-confidence can significantly boost other people’s perceptions of our competence and expertise. It is essential for female students and young professionals to have a complete and realistic understanding of their skills, so they can be more confident demonstrating and communicating about what they are good at. Most of our survey participants are either unconfident or unsure that their soft and hard skills would help them stand out in the job market (Exhibit 1), which could be driven by various reasons. One reason might be the lack of focus on the development of soft and hard skills at educational institutions, particularly at high schools and universities. More than 69 percent of our survey participants learn their soft and hard skills from workshops and webinars, YouTube, and e-learning platforms (e.g. LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera) while only 14 percent of the participants find courses offered at the University helpful (Exhibit 2). As students spend a large amount of time and money on their schoolwork, 14 percent is somewhat unsatisfactory. According to a long-running survey by The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., incoming freshmen consistently rank “getting a better job” as their top reason for attending college. As a result, finding an effective way to increase students’ ROI by focusing on what they need to feel confident about themselves when entering the job market is just common sense.

Exhibit 1: Would your skill(s) help you stand out?

Exhibit 2: Where do you usually learn and improve your skills?

On the bright side, despite that there is still a long way to go, NEU has done a decent job of providing students with resources on soft and hard skills. As far as soft skills are concerned, approximately 47 percent of our survey respondents give good ratings for resources available at the University. Resources related to technical skills seem to be not adequate, given good ratings by only 41 percent of the respondents (Exhibit 3). Networking, presentation, critical thinking, and time management are among the most heavily demanded soft skills workshops. Meanwhile, workshops about business intelligence, programming, and graphic design are considered the most important to our survey respondents. These findings could be supported by a 2021 survey about reskilling by McKinsey which confirmed that advanced cognitive skills (e.g. digital skills, quantitative and statistical skills, critical thinking, decision making, data analysis and mathematical skills) have become a clear priority for companies in advanced industries and industrial organizations.

Exhibit 3: How would you rate resources at Northeastern?

As about 81 percent of our survey participants prefer workshops organized by student organizations over the ones by the University (Exhibit 4), WIB will continue to do our best to organize helpful workshops for our members, helping them enhance their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.

Exhibit 4: How would you rate resources at Northeastern?

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Northeastern University Women in Business

Northeastern University Women in Business

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Women in Business stands to connect and engage Northeastern Undergraduate students with the female business community.