6 soft skills to develop during high school

08 Feb 2023


To succeed in future STEM careers, it’s important to have these 6 soft skills.

You might have heard of ‘soft skills’ before, but what does the term actually mean, and are these skills important?

When you study in class or work with your high school tutor, you’re using a combination of soft and hard skills – and you might not even realise the difference. Before we talk about the importance of soft skills, let’s define our terms:

Soft skills are important because employers increasingly prioritise ideas like culture and candidate potential”
Nav Phokela

Hard skills: Hard skills are job-ready or subject-specific skills. If your chemistry tutor teaches you about acid and base reactions, this is an example of a hard skill. Although you might be able to apply this knowledge to other situations, it’s not going to be all that applicable to creative writing or psychology. Hard skills are the ones you’ll be tested on in exams, so they’re naturally a student’s main focus when it comes to studying, and this type of skill often gets prioritised in the curriculum.

Soft skills: If hard skills are niche and specific, soft skills are general and broad. Soft skills are based on the way we interact, the way we think or process information, and our emotional health. While hard skills grab the limelight (and take up most of the time for your teachers and private tutors), soft skills are highly prized by employers because it’s important that employees can think for themselves, solve problems and effectively interact with others.  

Soft skills are important because employers increasingly prioritise ideas like culture (how the workplace feels and acts) and candidate potential (the ability to learn, not just already know everything). With that in mind, let’s look at 6 soft skills that will give every student the tools to succeed in high school, university and the workplace:

  • Time management: If you’re a high school student studying the HSC, you’ll know what it feels like to run out of time. There’s just so much to cram into every day, right? When it comes to university and employment, success can often hinge on how well you use your time. That means learning to be disciplined with time, planning ahead and thinking critically about how long it takes to perform a task. While you’re in high school, find a tutor or a teacher and ask them to help you structure your days for study and revision because, like every skill, practice makes perfect.
  • Creativity: You might think of creativity as only for the artistic types, but life is rarely so compartmentalised. Creativity is a type of problem solving in which you think beyond the limits of what you already know, or connect two ideas together to form something new. In STEM careers, you’re always going to be challenged beyond your current limits, but creative thinking allows you to take those issues in your stride. A good way to think of creativity is as an advanced form of analysis: think about the problem and brainstorm ideas. Not everything will work, but you’ll expand your own way of thinking.
  • Adaptability: In employment, as in life, things rarely stay the same. Your employer might move locations, you might need to take over a co-worker’s role temporarily or you might be offered a position that’s outside your comfort zone. Adaptability is a skill that lets you work with what you’re given and make the most of it. Employers love to see this trait because they know that, no matter what happens, you’re going to be able to roll with it. In high school, you can test yourself on adaptability by how well you deal with classes being cancelled, exam locations moving or your maths tutor being off sick.
  • Teamwork: Wherever you think you’ll work in the future, there’s a strong chance it will involve working with others. Whether you’re part of a team of engineers analysing water flow or a geologist working alongside archaeologists in the field, teamwork is a soft skill that is highly prized. Remember the phrase ‘many hands make light work?’ Well, that old cliche is still as true as ever when you’re employed. Employers want to see a team pulling together, and that means the ability to make concessions, respect the opinions of others, be inclusive and be respectful. Group assignments are a common (and often dreaded) part of university, but they’re great teamwork practice.
  • Leadership: You might not think of yourself as a leader. Not every student wants to be school captain and the thought of telling others what to do might be quite unappealing to your nature. That’s totally fine but at least understanding the principles of good leadership can help you along in your future career. Good leaders don’t just boss people around – they communicate clearly, they empathise with others, they listen and they consider the impacts of their actions. Just having the capacity to be a leader is often enough for employers, because you might just need to take the reins one day.

Emotional intelligence: A cold, unfeeling workplace in which productivity is prized above mental health is no one’s idea of a good time – especially these days. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the feelings of others, which means respecting how our actions affect people and being okay with the idea that not everyone feels things in the same way. Emotional intelligence also reflects inward – it’s a skill to understand how and why we feel the way we do. So much of employment is about how we interact with our co-workers, clients and customers, which makes emotional intelligence one of the most important soft skills.