Are our youngsters being adequately prepared for the big bad world in the tertiary institutions of our country? Is there real preparation and equipping happening in the halls (and more recently screens) of academia? Are our universities and colleges producing well-rounded and equipped young professionals who can enter the workforce with confidence; able to pull their weight in adding immediate value to their new employers and cope with the stresses of real life?

We would argue that, in the rearing of our students, so-called “soft” skills are learned through participation in more than academic pursuits. It takes a village, they say, to rear a child and at the tertiary level, it takes a plethora of activities to produce an equipped individual – someone who can not only excel at academics but has been formed and shaped by involvement in sport, charities, committees, and the like.

So, let us take a journey with one of these involved and well-rounded university students and illustrate what we mean: the transformation of a young, anxious, shy, and inexperienced first-year student to a confident and well-equipped young professional…

Fresh from the school desks, she enters the new world of tertiary education – away from home and family.  The textbooks are really thick and the lecturers are unsympathetic to the plight of a poor first-year student trying to wrap her head around the workload while trying to cope without the conveniences of living at home… How will she cope?

Fast-forward four years… A calm and together young lady walks out of her student digs for the last time, secretly optimistic about her future…  She has not only earned an Honours degree, but leadership, organizational, marketing, emotional, and people skills along the way.

In her second year at university and participating in the ladies rowing team, where other than fitness and determination, she learns perseverance and teamwork; rowing being one of the sports disciplines were working in unison is the ultimate goal.  She excels and is appointed captain.  Her teammates look up to her as a role model and she acquires the skill of managing, motivating, and organizing people, events, and schedules. Her commitment is contagious, so within her third year, she is appointed to the USSA Rowing Committee as the Media Liaison.

Her portfolio is challenging as the Media Representative, and she develops skills as a communicator, marketer, and social media guru.  Her people skills are honed because she deals with people from all walks of life, living across South Africa. Problem-solving becomes almost second nature. Soft skills?

Balancing studies, sport, and committee responsibilities is a fine balancing act.  She was able to excel at project and time management which is evident in her promotion to USSA Rowing Chairperson.  Within this role, she had to learn to chair meetings, event management, submission of reports, and needless to say leadership skills on a whole new level which required emotional intelligence as a new practiced soft skill.

We must remember that most of the students that attend university go there to achieve some or other academic degree. She is no different – after 4 years, she is capped with her Honors degree in Psychology and she has gained important skills: working under pressure, prioritizing assignments, report writing and presentation, computer skills, and adhering to academic standards. Her skills are not only academic and theoretical but quite practical and useful.

It is quite obvious that the once scared and timid newbie has changed.  Over the course of four years, she has been transformed which was witnessed by many at her closing speech of the 2021 University Boat race -jaw-dropping stuff!  Her academic goals were helped along by sport, committees, leadership, and all her experiences. She has been fortified and she is ready to take on the wide world with all the skills that she has developed. Skills, that we would reason, are definitely not soft at all.