Soft Skills Overview
Soft skills were first described and used in their modern form by the army, as part of personnel management training. In fact, if you ignore the obvious creative drawback of military authority procedures, the army is one of the greatest examples of institutions focused intensely on soft skill development. From making your bed every morning to following a strict time schedule, skills for life is basically what most military organizations are about.
Soft skills are usually organically evolved through our life experiences and interactions with other people. In the same way, you could, in theory at least, evolve any particular set of hard skills by devoting enough time and effort in a subject.
Focusing on evolving soft skills, the way hard skills are evolved through schooling offers a measurable advantage in the way a person navigates through life. In fact, soft skills are not taught but rather enhanced since practically everyone has a basic, organically formed grip on them.
Furthermore, soft skill enhancement during an early age (1-9 yo) can be incredibly beneficial in the development of positive personality traits. 2000 Economics Nobel prize winner James Heckman and Tim Kautz clearly provided “Hard Evidence on Soft Skills” proving exactly that.
For the purpose of reference throughout this analysis, notable soft skills include:
- Time management
- Critical thinking
- Social skills
- Interpersonal communication
- Work Ethic
The function of Soft Skills
In a world that is being largely automated, hard skills are becoming more of a tool that needs to be learned to complete a task and then unlearned just as fast, since the task itself will probably end up being automated to make it more efficient.
This cycle of hard skill learning and subsequent automation is guided by soft skill governed processes. To complete the cycle, you need to be able to identify the missing hard skill, learn it, implement it, identify the right time to automate it, and finally replace it with the next required skill.
What this tells us is that soft skills are basically the net that connects and utilizes the different knowledge nodes that are hard skills.
Soft Skill Net Example
For the sake of deeper understanding, we have created an example of soft skill use to increase business and personal excellence.
Imagine you are a dentist. You have graduated from dental school which means you hold the technical knowledge and capability to extract a tooth, fill a cavity, or perform dental bleaching. Let’s call these your nodes of knowledge.
Your dental license also allows you to start a business and treat customers in your own space. You are looking for a place to set up your office and you are presented with two choices. One is a basement that was previously also used as a dental office and so it already possesses some of the necessary equipment for the job. The asking price 500 $/month. It has however no natural light and is not quite spacious. The other is a 3rd-floor studio with plenty of natural light and lots of open spaces which goes for 700 $/month.
With your limited financial knowledge, you are certain that the basement is the obvious winner as it includes the equipment you will need while not breaking the bank. You decide however to take a step back and think about the advantages of the other choice. You want to find out how what your customers would think of each space.
You read up a bit on patient psychology and it becomes obvious that patients would prefer a well-lit open space and the opposite will definitely have an impact on their thoughts and emotions. In the end, by connecting that new knowledge with your decision-making process you ignored the obvious “logical choice” for a more need-oriented one.
You just successfully used your soft skill net to:
a metacognition process on your thinking
- Disregard a previously learned practical skill (Basic Economics)
- Learn a new one (Basic Patient Psychology)
- Evaluate a cost based on interpersonal relationships rather than just financials
Studies, of course, show that the patients/customers would choose the well-lit, spacious room practically every time since it boosts a positive outlook on the sensitive health-related procedure that will take place in the room.
Through this example, it’s quite easy to spot the difference between the individual hard skill nodes and the soft skill net that is required to navigate and utilize them.
The need for Soft Skills:
However important, soft skills are hard to learn and implement in the workplace. In fact, employers are less likely to invest in soft skill training because of the lower chance of transferring for training to jobs. Paradoxically, research shows that soft skill mastery can account for 75-80 % of career success!
Namely, soft skill development in employees can induce:
- Increased productivity – Employees’ efficiency in their tasks and responsibilities increases which in turn will help bring the company closer to achieving its goals.
- Improved teamwork – For a business to function effectively people must work well together in order to achieve a common goal. The quality of work improves when people use their individual strengths and skills together in collaboration.
- Improved retention rates – People want to work at a company that invests in employees’ career development, in fact, 63% of UK employees would change their employer if they are offered a job at a company with more training opportunities. Also, recruitment costs for the company decrease with increased staff retention.
- Improved employee satisfaction – Investing in employees’ shows them that they are valued. Feeling appreciated and having a positive outlook of the company increases job satisfaction.
- Improved leadership – Soft skills help prepare employees for leadership positions because specific skills are needed, such as active listening, empathy, etc. This is important because 50% of employees leave their job due to poor managers.
- The attraction of new clients – If your clients are happy with your company’s service, they are more likely to recommend you to other clients. This provides your company with new business opportunities.
Regarding customer attraction: Soft skills might be the key to gaining access to customers. Since the modern buyer has unlimited access to all types and qualities of products, the part which will ultimately guide their decision is the experience provided by the company and its employees.
So, what are doing wrong?
The missing link appears to be the early enhancement of these soft skills. Specifically, enhancement through education at a young age. As shown in the, earlier referred, “Hard Evidence on Soft Skills” research, early development of important skills such as Problem Solving, Emotion Control, and even Purpose Alignment can definitively help guide children towards overall life satisfaction and contentment.
There is, of course, another way young children benefit from soft skill enhancement methods. Metacognition, the epitome of critical thinking, and a sign of advanced intelligence can be enhanced through soft skill activities. The function of metacognition is best described as “thinking about your thinking” and since overall intelligence is now known to be dynamically altered throughout one’s life, the earlier this metacognition effect is produced, the bigger the exponential effect on overall intelligence will be.
There should, therefore, be a way to measure this improvement in thinking, by the means of practical activity designed to engage and test this very effect. For this reason, we propose a series of activities that promote this cycle of Learning – Unlearning and Relearning by requiring participating children to continuously use this Critical Thinking method. An example would be teaching the kids the basics about a subject so they are required to conduct their own research to complete any given task. This research should point out to them things that were not completely covered in the original teaching, and therefore need to be integrated into their thinking process.
This method of Soft Skill enhancement through experience might, in fact, hold the future of educational, as well as professional, fulfillment.
- “Identifying your Skills & Attributes”. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
- Workforce connections: Key soft skills that foster youth workforce success, Child Trends, June 2015
- “the definition of soft skills”. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
- Claxton, Guy; Costa, A.; Kallick, Bena. “Hard thinking about soft skills”. Educational Leadership. 73: 60–64.
- CON Reg 350-100-1 (PDF), Fort Monroe, Virginia: UNITED STATES CONTINENTAL ARMY COMMAND, 1968, retrieved November 21, 2016
- Silber, K.H. & Foshay, W.R., Handbook of Improving Performance in the Workplace, Instructional Design and Training Delivery, John Wiley & Sons 2009, ISBN 9780470190685, p.63
- CON Reg 350-100-1, as cited in Whitmore, Paul G., “What are soft skills?”
- Katherine S. Newman, Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-wage Labor Market, Harvard University Press 2006, ISBN 0674023366, p.351
- Whitmore, Paul G., “What are soft skills?”, Paper presented at the CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Texas, 12–13 December 1972
- Fry, John P., “Procedures for Implementing Soft-Skill Training in CONARC Schools,” Paper presented at the CONARC Soft Skills Conference, Texas, 12–13 December 1972
- Whitmore, Paul G.; Fry, John P., “Soft Skills: Definition, Behavioral Model Analysis, Training Procedures. Professional Paper 3-74.”, Research Report ERIC Number: ED158043, 48pp.
- Marcel M. Robles, Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace Archived 2016-08-12 at the Wayback Machine, Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4) 453–465 (pdf)
- Succi, Chiara. “Soft Skills for the Next Generation: Toward a Comparison between Employers and Graduate Students’ Perceptions”. Sociologia del Lavoro. 137: 244–256.
- Heckman and Kautz, Hard Evidence on Soft Skills, 2012
- “McDonald’s Backing Soft Skills”. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
- Levasseur, Robert E. (2013). “People Skills: Developing Soft Skills — a Change Management Perspective”. Interfaces. 43 (6): 566–571. doi:10.1287/inte.2013.0703.
- “Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills”. www.oecd-ilibrary.org. doi:10.1787/9789264226159-en. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
- “The returns of going to university are higher among those in the higher social and emotional skill deciles”. Skills for Social Progress. 2015-03-10. doi:10.1787/9789264226159-graph16-en. ISSN 2307-8731.
- Rutkowski, Leslie Davier, Matthias von Rutkowski, David (2013). Handbook of International large-scale assessment : background, technical issues, and methods of data analysis. CRC Press. ISBN 978-1-4398-9512-2. OCLC 867469251.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Zhang, Aimao (2012). “Peer assessment of soft skills and hard skills”. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research. 11: 155–168. doi:10.28945/1634.
- Laker, Dennis R.; Powell, Jimmy L (2011). “The Differences between Hard and Soft Skills and Their Relative Impact on Training Transfer”. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 22: 111–122. doi:10.1002/hrdq.20063.
- “OECD Skills Outlook 2019 : Thriving in a Digital World | en | OECD”. www.oecd.org. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
- DeKorver, Brittland K.; Choi, Mark; Towns, Marcy (2017-02-14). “Exploration of a Method To Assess Children’s Understandings of a Phenomenon after Viewing a Demonstration Show”. Journal of Chemical Education. 94 (2): 149–156. doi:10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00506. ISSN 0021-9584.
- Lee, C.-I.; Tsai, F.-Y. (2004-02-03). “Internet project-based learning environment: the effects of thinking styles on learning transfer”. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 20 (1): 31–39. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2004.00063.x. ISSN 0266-4909.
- Heckman, James J.; Kautz, Tim (2012-08-01). “Hard evidence on soft skills”. Labour Economics. European Association of Labour Economists 23rd annual conference, Paphos, Cyprus, 22-24th September 2011. 19 (4): 451–464. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2012.05.014. ISSN 0927-5371.
- Krueger, Alan B.; Whitmore, Diane M. (2001-01-01). “The Effect of Attending a Small Class in the Early Grades on College‐test Taking and Middle School Test Results: Evidence from Project Star”. The Economic Journal. 111 (468): 1–28. doi:10.1111/1468-0297.00586. ISSN 0013-0133.
- Bierman, Karen L.; Coie, John D.; Dodge, Kenneth A.; Greenberg, Mark T.; Lochman, John E.; McMahon, Robert J.; Pinderhughes, Ellen (April 2010). “The effects of a multiyear universal social–emotional learning program: The role of student and school characteristics”. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 78 (2): 156–168. doi:10.1037/a0018607. ISSN 1939-2117.
- Dee, Thomas S.; West, Martin R. (March 2011). “The Non-Cognitive Returns to Class Size”. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 33 (1): 23–46. doi:10.3102/0162373710392370. ISSN 0162-3737.
- Durlak, Joseph A.; Weissberg, Roger P.; Dymnicki, Allison B.; Taylor, Rebecca D.; Schellinger, Kriston B. (January 2011). “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions”. Child Development. 82 (1): 405–432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x. ISSN 0009-3920.
- Yeo, Jennifer (2019-01-02). “Facing the challenges of the future of education”. Learning: Research and Practice. 5 (1): 1–3. doi:10.1080/23735082.2019.1585120. ISSN 2373-5082.
- “OECD Skills Outlook 2019 : Thriving in a Digital World | en | OECD”. www.oecd.org. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
- “OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development”. www.oecd.org. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
- Stewart, Carol; Wall, Alison; Marciniec, Sheryl. “Mixed signals: Do college graduates have the soft skills that employers want?”. Competition Forum. 14: 276–281.