In India, electronics engineering as a career has always attracted the student community in a big way. Testimony to this fact is an ever-increasing number of aspirants taking various entrance exams to qualify and enroll for their choice of engineering branch. Throughout the course, one learns and specialises in a particular branch of engineering theoretically and practically. However, just technical skills are not enough as the most common HR question is: Beyond technical skills, experience and knowledge, what added value do you bring to the organisation? Therefore soft skills are critical to make you employable.

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What exactly are soft skills?
Naresh Narasimhan, country marketing manager, Tektronix, says, “In the 21st century and going forward, three things are important—ability to communicate an idea visually, ability to have a balanced point-of-view on key issues and ability to convert ideas to results.”

The concept of soft skills is not limited to just plain communication skills but it also includes aspects such as people skills.

Dr Pallab Bandyopadhyay, director-HR, Citrix India, explains: “In the broader context, soft skills would also include negotiation, decision making, reasoning and problem solving, and conflict-resolution skills required in today’s work environment.”

“While technical professionals are often selected and trained based on measurable talents and skills such as knowledge of OS or software programming skills—which are prerequisites to starting a career in engineering and technology—intangible skills such as language proficiency, ability to work with global teams and positive attitude often count in making their career a rewarding one. These intangible skills are classified as soft-skills,” adds Sudhanshu Pandit, director-HR, Symantec India.

When evaluating a candidate on soft skills, HR professionals look at not only his ability to communicate his thoughts clearly and concisely but also his personality and problem-solving skills.

Defining soft skills, John Prohod-sky, founder and principal consultant, Future Envisioned, says, “Soft skills are non-technical, interpersonal and communication skills required by an engineer to successfully solve problems and apply his technical skills.”

Throwing light on how soft skills are directly proportional to one’s personality, Rajesh Choudhary, HR head, Xilinx India, says, “Personality traits such as common sense, optimism, responsibility, integrity, attitude and behavioural competencies that include analytical thinking, result orientation and achievement, communication, teamwork, conflict management, customer orientation and attention to details come under soft skills.”

As soft skills cover all the aspects related to human behaviour, Zubin Rashid, managing partner and head of training, ZRINDIA, believes that “Just as hard skills teach us about domain-specific skills like technology, products and processes, soft skills are about interacting with people with whom you work.”

Every company looks for a different mix of skills and experience and it is not enough just to be a subject matter expert. Communication is an integral part of soft skills.

Surinder Bhagat, country HR head, Freescale Semiconductor, India, says, “Soft skills can also refer to a set of skills that determine how one interacts with others in a way that the company as such gets represented well. These skills are applicable to all internal as well as external forums where employees are making key interactions.”

Tina Vas, vice president-global HR, Collabera, says “Simply put, soft skills have more to do with who we are than what we know.”

Soft skills critically impact the way an individual translates his expertise across to his team and further to the whole organisation.

Ramana Vemuri, VP-process and operations, Cigniti Technologies, believes that soft skills enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects. According to him, emotional intelligence is the critical element that defines the core of soft skills a person is equipped with.

Soft skills in today’s India
According to a recent report by employability assessment company Aspiring Minds, 56 per cent engineering graduates in India lack soft skills and cognitive skills. Non-technical aspects of engineering such as communications, relationships, temperament, emotional intelligence and risk management make a difference between success and failure. Understanding and adapting to the working environment is just as crucial as getting the job itself.

Prohodsky says, “Engineering is the application of hard sciences to solve real problems but what they rarely teach in colleges is that engineering, in addition to being a technical activity, is an economic activity and, most importantly, a human activity.”

According to him, the ability to understand company and work team culture is the most under-appreciated soft skill.

Bhagat says, “As companies become more global, soft skills are highly desirable and required in more positions now than ten or even five years ago. You may have an excellent knowledge base in engineering or technology, perhaps even a PhD, and maybe bilingual but if you have not developed good skills in communicating, interacting and people resource management, you have already limited your opportunities and chance of success.”

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