Why is it that soft skills seem to have become the newest and latest “big” thing? Weren’t they always important and necessary? However, I’m noticing more and more articles and posts focused on the need to increase soft skill training and development, which in turn suggests at least the perception of a shortage of these skills. In a recent post Sierra Charter comments on a US NEWS article in which the author stated that “Although a strong background in traditional ‘hard’ skills like writing, mathematics and science will always have its place in academic and career worlds, an increasing number of employers desire prospective employees with ‘soft’ skills’”. In the same way that many post-secondary institutions teach a student trade skills but little in the way of how to run a trade business, so do these same institutions fail to provide training in things such as collaboration, communication and interpersonal skills. Granted, you can find courses on these subjects as part of many college continuing education programs, but what about in grades K to 12? I think it is important to note that of all the subjects taught in schools, the area where soft skills has the most potential to be developed is the area that tends to get cut first due to budgets, that is the arts – music, dance and theatre.
In his book Teaching Students To Dig Deeper: The Common Core in Action, Ben Johnson describes how a software executive stated “[that] he doesn’t place much emphasis on what the individual knows right now. He is looking for someone who can learn on the fly a completely new programming language because what is currently being used may be outdated in six months.” This executive goes on to state that we do ourselves a disservice by using the terms “soft-skills” when referring to reasoning, logic, collaboration, communication, and thinking skills; that in the information technology industry, these skills are crucial and anything but “soft” because they are the most difficult to master and, “unfortunately, fairly rare in employee candidates.”
Johnson goes on to state that we need to be teaching skills such as:
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
- Agility and Adaptability
- Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
- Effective Oral and Written Communication
- Accessing and Analyzing Information
- Curiosity and Imagination
These critical skills are what businesses are clamoring for in their future employees, not just in high tech but in other industries as well.
A recent study in the UK determined that “Soft Skills” are worth £88bn ($186bn CDN) to the UK economy. A business group—including, believe it or not, McDonalds—is doing a three month study on how government can introduce policies that will help employees and employers develop soft skills. The CPO (Chief People Officer) for McDonalds in the UK and northern Europe stated that abilities such as communications, interpersonal skills and time management were “essential skills” for employees.
So should teaching “soft-skills” be a priority in schools? This is a title of an excellent article by Alejandro Ganimian in EductionNext where he describes and concludes that, yes, they should be because, for one reason, children need to be able to use a soft skill such as patience to be able to work on math problems. As another commentator noted, “If we believe that public education is an anchor of democracy, a propeller of our economy and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams, then we have to make public education about three things: helping our students build trusting relationships—with both their peers and adults; equipping them with essential knowledge and the tools to critically think and problem solve; and perhaps most important, helping them develop persistence and grit—the ability and means to deal with disappointment and lack of success.”
I don’t know what it’s like in the school system where you live, but it’s something to think about. How are we preparing the next generation to succeed when it comes to interpersonal relationships? It’s obviously become an issue that needs to be addressed.