Soft Skills: The Elephant Trampling the Room

We talk a lot about soft skills. And why wouldn’t we - they make the world go ‘round. Every great invention or step forward that ever was or ever will be created by us humans, happened because of the thinker’s ability to convey meaning to someone else. No man is an island and innovation requires consensus.

The term “soft skills” gets bandied about but just in case you’re a little unsure as to exactly what soft skills are, here’s our definition:

SOFT SKILLS: That group of non-technical, interpersonal skills that act as the connective tissue between humans. For example, conversational competency is a soft skill as it requires two or more people speaking, listening and interacting with each other. Excelling at calculus is not a soft skill. The ability to communicate mathematic findings or to work with others to problem-solve is a soft skill.

Recently, an article in the Wall Street Journal reported that a poll of over 900 executives found that more than 90% of them felt soft skills were as equally important or more important than technical skills. The same article reports the findings of a LinkedIn survey of hiring managers. Of the 291 managers surveyed, over 58% of them felt that a lack of soft skills was hurting the business. Let me say that again…hurting the business!

Unfortunately, very few schools or colleges provide any structured soft skills training programs. There are “work readiness” efforts which educate participants in interviewing skills or writing a resume, but their scope is small and they fall short in the "actually-functioning-at-work" bigger picture.

Technological advances have, in some very real ways, exceeded our human skills. Here’s what we propose: create soft skills programs that embrace technology and work with it. Job candidates fresh out of high school or college with the requisite technical skills, probably don’t have the skills to talk about the scope of their abilities and ideas. In addition to the technical skills an engineer needs to know to be considered an engineer, let’s actually give them the skills to function as a human engineer, wholistically. Let’s teach her how convey an idea to a single person or a large group and answer questions. Let’s give him the opportunity to fail well, and do it again. Let’s teach them how to run a schedule, to network, to work with others and have mutually beneficial conversations in person as well as on a screen.

While we complain about our kid’s inability to hold a conversation or that “millennials” spend too much time looking at screens, nothing will change unless we change how we approach education in a technology-based world. There will continue to be more studies published lamenting the dearth of soft skills in the job market. Let’s do something about it. Let’s have a conversation.

LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC.  Her company uses theatre techniques and strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.