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Internships: number one soft skill booster

Every year students attend class and study hard, determined that this is the path that will lead them to a well-paid job and a bright future. The knowledge that students gain from school is what is called “hard skills”. If successful in honing these hard skills, they graduate and enter another stage of life -- a professional career, with the hopes of future promotions and advances.

It is a task of employers to observe and evaluate every employee under his supervision to determine who among them are qualified for promotions. Employers will be assessing employees on both their mastery of hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are the foundation for employees to demonstrate their abilities. However, soft skills are main factors that push people toward becoming a good employee. It is just like a paddle and canoe, in order to able to move, both factors need to work simultaneously.

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‘Soft skills’ refer to attitudes, likeable personalities, habits and social graces that make someone a trusted employee and compatible to work with. A strong work ethic, positive attitude, good communication skills, time management abilities, problem-solving skills, acting as a team player, self-confidence, ability to learn from and listen to criticism, adaptability and the ability to work well under pressure: all these are soft skills that employers value.

One way to garner these soft skills is to take an internship, an opportunity that will be beneficial for one’s future career.

Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, general manager of international joint-venture company Jebsen&Jessen Co., Ltd in Cambodia, said that “university students should try to find an internship that will help them develop their skill set and will allow them the chance to learn and observe those qualities that will give them a head’s up in a competitive job market.”

He added that internships are a chance for young adults to improve their social network and learn to think in a different way. Plus they can put their theoretical knowledge into practice. After they finish their internship, they should find that they built up self-confidence and improved their capacity to deal with problems.

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The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training provides this sort of short-course training, as well as workshops, and development projects ideal for young people to develop their marketable skills.

Thorng Samon, an official at Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, says that soft skills are an area of the workforce the ministry is actively addressing, especially mindful - once again- of its importance with the coming ASEAN integration.

“Actually, we are working on the improvement of the soft skills due to the fact that it is significant for all of the employees to understand its importance.”

Hard skills are indispensable but you get nowhere without soft skills. Good communication, cooperation and understanding of other’s problems are vital for success.

Seng Socheata recently completed an internship with the World Vision Organization.

“I couldn’t believe that I could learn and improve my soft skills successfully unless I finish my internship and got a real job.”

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Before her internship, she says that she lacked of self-confidence and communication skills and had a deep fear of making mistakes. After finishing her internship, she realized that she can think out of the box, build strong relationships, deal professionally with different types of people, and cooperate and reach understandings with everyone – a tool for her future career, especially with ASEAN integration being complete in 2015.

Luy Kunthea, who works for Kwantum Company, which exports products from Marks and Spencer, says she lacks many soft skills. She feels she lacks the ability to work well in a team setting, and there have been many times when she felt she should quit because she could not tolerate the problems that crop up at work. Communication with colleagues becomes increasingly difficult for her.

“I have started to realise that soft skills are crucial for my career since I fail to work and adapt with my working environment,” she said – a lack of skill that will make it increasingly difficult for her to find lucrative and enjoyable employment in a large but competitive job market of people from the entire ASEAN community.

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