Soft Skills - one of the overriding phrases of my life. When I first started my business about three-plus years ago, the term “soft skills” was seemingly unheard of. Whenever I spoke about what I did, I first had to educate my listener on the definition of soft skills. Only then could I make them understand the place and importance of shiny and showy, non-technical skills. Here we are, several years later and everyone knows about soft skills. Studies have been conducted, exhaustive surveys collected and now we all agree on their relevance and importance, and yet…
And yet, very few education systems, i.e., high schools or colleges, are implementing any kind of soft skills training for students. Why is that? Why are we continuously complaining about young(er) people’s people skills if we’re not actually willing to do anything about it? Sure, complaining is a full-time job and a part-time past time for some, but just saying, “Houston, we have a problem…” doesn’t actually solve the problem.
It’s harder to teach and to quantify soft skills than technical skills, so perhaps that’s the rub. It’s the elephant trampling the room that no one wants to talk about. We don’t know how to get our arms around it so we pretend it’s not there. The truth is, the gap will continue to grow as more Millenials and Generation Z’ers participate in the workforce. Keep in mind, these are the people who have never not known computers, the internet and smart phones. Because this workforce has grown up in a technology-based environment that provides entertainment and information while requiring little more than an emoji as a means of communication, they’re entering the job market requiring almost ground-up human skills.
In a survey conducted by Robert Half Technology of over 2,500 CIO’s, they found that “…written and interpersonal communication skills…are the skills that will most impact career success.” Libby Sander of Bond University makes an excellent point at theconversation.com, talking about how our modern workplace environments with open floor plans require people to interact and collaborate, necessitating better interpersonal skills.
A study by the Foundation For Young Australians (FYA), a non-profit organization, found that wages are substantially higher for job applicants with enterprising skills. Skills like problem-solving, presentation, creativity, critical thinking, etc. all fall into this category. Mark Feffer, in an article for SHRM.org, entitled, HR’s Hard Challenge: When Employees Lack Soft Skills, notes that soft skills directly impact profitability, and that
“…Managers who incorporate a range of soft talents into their leadership approach can increase their team’s performance by as much as 30 percent. The reason? It “makes people feel valued and rewarded, gives them a clearer sense of high standards, and helps [them] feel more motivated,” says Rick Lash, director for leadership and talent at Korn Ferry/Hay Group in Toronto.”
To sum up, companies need employees with great soft skills. Those employees earn more money and make the organizations they work for more profitable. So why are we graduating students from high school and college without these valuable and highly necessary skills? How do we jump the widening gorge? Shouldn't technology and soft skills be taught collaboratively, beginning in primary schools? If we’re introducing our children to technology at a young age, why not also expose them to comparable soft skills? These are systems that we must consider and implement as soon as possible. It's not enough to complain. It’s not enough to develop collegiate programs to address job pipeline deficiencies, without making sure that those programs are comprehensive and include real-world social capital skills. In researching this article, we did come across a couple of interesting offerings (aside from our own). One of them, a helping-professional’s master class in emotional intelligence (EQ), seems to focus exclusively on the facets of emotions. It may be a good place to start.
Whatever label we use, whether it’s soft skills, enterprise skills, or human skills, the evidence is clear and prolific that these are skills that need to be taught as an integral part of current program systems. They can no longer be thought of as extra or “nice to have, but…” This is our world. This is what the future of our world requires. We do ourselves and our future a tremendous disservice thinking otherwise.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company produces training events utilizing theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.