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Why Learning Soft Skills Will Help MBAs Land Jobs

Students on the UCL-PKU MBA program learn how they can become more effective leaders of innovation and entrepreneurship


Thu Sep 19 2019


By 2030, a third of British jobs may be carried out by robots, according to a recent PwC study. In China, too, about 100 million jobs are currently under threat from automation. 

With such profound change on the horizon, the technical skills that executives need are constantly shifting.  However, so-called ‘soft’ skills, like creative thinking and collaborative decision marking, continue to be of vital importance. 

BusinessBecause caught up with with Dr Dave Chapman and Dr Jim Berry, of the UCL School of Management at UCL’s Canary Wharf campus in London.

The two professors oversee a three-week module exploring ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe’, teaching students on the Peking University-UCL joint MBA program (BiMBA). 

Throughout the module, Throughout the module, participants are challenged to develop both their technical expertise and the critical soft skills required for effective decision making.

 This, Dave and Jim say, will help MBA students stand out to employers.

Employers want soft skills…


Why? Employers face a soft skills gap.

In a 2018 survey by the Financial Times (FT), over 70 leading employers said that soft skills were more important than their ‘hard’, technical counterparts when it came to MBA hires.

54% of respondents said the ability to work with a wide variety of people—from different cultures—was the most important skill an MBA graduate could have.

By allowing students to split their time between Beijing and London, the PKU-UCL program fosters this cross-cultural adaptability. 

“In London, you have the opportunity to bounce off people in different sectors very easily,” Jim (pictured above) explains. “It’s a hub for AI, a hub for fintech, and a hub for creative industries.”

Where these diverse industries interact, soft skills play a vital role. Things are done differently in China than they are in Europe, Jim explains. “There’s an opportunity for new learning on both sides.”

Throughout the module, students including those who work for big businesses, are supported in the development of an “entrepreneurial mindset” which encourages taking action to seek out new business opportunities. 

As one research study found, 82% of large companies think partnering with startups is important for future business development. 

In London, BiMBA students have the chance to visit startup hubs, from King’s Cross to Shoreditch, and see first-hand how these ecosystems operate. 

If executives are to form strong relationships with startups, Jim says, they’ll need to communicate with and learn from these small teams.

“It’s about knowing when to speak and when to listen,” Dave explains, “as well as thinking creatively about problems and taking ownership.”

…And they can be learned

Soft skills are often difficult to recruit for. In the FT survey, half of employers said that problem solving and resilience were the hardest skills to find among MBA graduates.

Dave and Jim believe that executives and entrepreneurs alike can make themselves stand out by developing in these areas. 

“We talk about a successful entrepreneur being a combination of traits and learned skills,” Dave observes. “There are some character traits that are more or less helpful, but a lot of it is learned.”

What does it take to learn these skills? 

With passion and practice, Jim says, soft skills can be learned—and MBA students will benefit from doing so.

“We ask our students to reflect on their personal values,” Dave says. “What is it they’re trying to achieve in their life? What is it they’re trying to get done?”