The Importance of Soft Skills

As a society, we have gotten fixated on the idea of “geniuses” and being the smartest person in the room. We think the smartest people get the best opportunities and, in turn, the best jobs. 

Is being well educated important? Of course. 

Being an intelligent individual is always a great tool to being successful in life. However, there are more pieces to the puzzle than just that. Being able to navigate Excel, code a website or build a rocket are considered hard skills

You could be the most qualified for a job and still not get it. This may seem unfair or unreasonable but it is often true. In the workforce, employers are looking for someone who is going to better their company and someone who is going to help keep a healthy work environment. This is known as emotional intelligence.  

The skills that are needed to work and get along with others are known as soft skills. Are you a leader? Can you communicate with others? Do you keep a positive outlook? Are you able to work in groups? The list goes on.

Hard skills are extremely common in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions. During school, the curriculum is focused-in on these hard skills and pays little attention to the soft skills essential to a productive work environment.  

Writer for the Sydney Morning Herald Addie Wooten said, “by labelling these essential skills “soft” we undermine their value.” Soft skills often take a backseat to the rest of the standardized curriculum taught in the education system – such as STEM or language arts. 

With the importance of soft skills in mind, the University of Southern California (USC) has created a program to equip teens with all the skills they need to succeed. The Third Space Youth Institute was founded in 2017 by Ernest Wilson. It focuses on giving kids the soft skills and career readiness they do not always get in a traditional classroom setting. 

A study on the analysis of 142,000 job descriptions found that, “oral and written communication, collaboration and problem-solving are the most highly requested 21st century skills in the workplace.” 

That is why USC has taken a special interest in giving students these skills before they even enter college. Across all job types, soft skills are an important factor in success. Outside of work, these skills still come into play when interacting with others. 

When we imagine our ideal future for our child, it often goes further than economic success or job title. We hope that they are well-rounded, happy and other seemingly intangible things. 

According to LearnWell, 80 percent of parents, teachers, principals and superintendents thought that non-academic skills were just as important as academics. Yet, despite this large majority of people who believe soft skills are important, they are often not taught as frequently or as early. 

With COVID-19 keeping most Americans in their homes, families are spending more time together than ever. This is the perfect opportunity for parents to expose their kids to soft skills that they can continue to use throughout their life. It is essential for children to learn how to communicate, play, and problem-solve with others. While the pandemic created a more sheltered environment, this is an opportunity for parents to find ways to better their child socially and emotionally during this time.

A recent 2018 study found that four in 10 corporations and approximately half of universities believe that recent graduates lack many of the soft skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. Many feel that these soft skills are more telling of a recent student’s success than a GPA. 

“Businesses are learning that [GPA] was an artificial measure of how successful the student could be on the job. It is an easy measure to have, to assess and to look at on the resume. But if this wasn’t correlating with how successful you’d be on the job, then it’s an artificial measure,”  said Dr. Cheryl Talley, an associate professor of neuroscience at Virginia State University.

Young adults now have grown up in a technological age where they have been able to use communication forms such as texting and social media to communicate with others. This has led them to feel less comfort in face-to-face interactions that shows during their daily life and in their professions. 

Statistics show that people in STEM jobs get paid more than those in liberal arts professions. However, according to an article in the New York Times, this is not entirely true. During their first job, STEM jobs pay higher salaries. But in the long run, liberal arts jobs catch up and can even pass science, technology, engineering and math wages.

STEM jobs are hands-on and rely heavily on the constantly advancing technology. This makes it difficult for people in these professions to stay up-to-date with the skills and mediums others are learning in college. 

“A liberal arts education fosters valuable “soft skills” like problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability. Such skills are hard to quantify, and they don’t create clean pathways to high-paying first jobs. But they have long-run value in a wide variety of careers,” said the New York Times

Although most believe that children should learn these soft skills during their K-12 years, some universities are beginning to offer ways for students to build their soft skills as well. Stanford University has recently created a class on “Interpersonal Dynamics” that focuses on aiding students in communication and self-awareness. 

Positive Psychology offers an Emotional Intelligence Masterclass in a similar attempt to give people the opportunity to gain the soft skills that they lack.

This six module program offers professor guided instruction that will lead their students to finding the skills necessary to enhance both their professional and personal life. The modules are broken down by: emotions, emotional intelligence, emotional awareness, beliefs and emotions, emotional knowledge and emotional expression. 

Through completing this program, people will not only improve their own soft skills and emotional intelligence, but also possess the tools to help others on their journey. This lesson plan is targeted, but not limited to, therapists, coaches, mental wellbeing trainers, psychologists, healthcare professionals and HR-managers.

“The new Emotional Intelligence Coaching Masterclass is in a class of its own.  As with all of the Positive Psychology Program products it is well written, thoroughly researched and practical.  It is suitable for both early career coaches as well as more experienced coaches who are looking to deepen their knowledge and hone their EI skills,” said Dr. Leonard Read Sulik, MD. “Unlike so many other emotional intelligence resources, this EI Coaching Masterclass dives much deeper in the construct and provides excellent context.” 

Whether to improve personal emotional intelligence or to gain skills necessary to help others achieve their emotional intelligence, the Emotional Intelligence Masterclass uses science-based research to give an intensive and in-depth learning experience. If more adults become equipped with these skills, it will be easier to teach young adults and students these important skills.   

As educators, our job is to send children out into the world to be successful. That means creating a well rounded child who can both excel in their trade but also possess the soft skills that employers often look for during an interview and during their time at the job. 

These two things are often seen as separate when they should not be. In order to create a completely competent individual both types of intelligence are necessary. Soft skills create a sense of leadership and intellectual flexibility that is a key part in business related success. Without both, many of the technological advancements that we see today would not have been possible.  

A 2018 survey done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found the top three attributes of a college graduate that employers look for in a possible employee. The top three were the ability to work with a team, communication and problem solving skills. There were many other soft skills that made the top 10.    

But how do we teach these soft skills to students?

Add variety to the classroom. Make students collaborate with others and work in both small and large groups. This will help them to work on their communication skills, problem solving and overall ability to work coherently with others. 

Another helpful tool may be to have a daily problem that requires kids to use critical thinking skills to solve. If this is done on a daily basis, it will train kids to use these skills more effortlessly.

Soft skills are often obtained through parents, friends and experiences outside of school. That does not mean that as educators we cannot make efforts to help these kids obtain these skills at an earlier age so that when they go off to college or enter the workforce they are comfortable doing these intangible, yet very important, things.  

People in the liberal arts field have said educators and parents should work on developing the whole person. This focus on soft skill development will better suit children to succeed in a constantly changing and adapting world and job.   

As a parent, there are many ways outside of daily life lessons to teach your child soft skills. Smiling Mind is a not-for-profit organization that focuses on, “equipping young people with the integral skills they need to thrive in life”. 

The heart of the Smiling Mind organization is the mental health of children. According to Smiling Mind’s website, “1 in 4 secondary students and 1 in 7 primary school students experience a mental illness and 75% of all mental illness has its onset before the age of 24.” 

They help students to learn effective coping mechanisms for stress along with how to work through emotions. Since their launch in 2012, Smiling Minds has reached approximately 1.8 million children. This site is offered on laptops and through an app. This is an easy way to teach your child soft skills and help them learn ways to be mentally healthy even during times of stress and anxiety. 

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