What exactly are Soft Skills?
Soft skills refer to an individual's personality traits and interpersonal abilities that define how they connect or communicate with others. These skills reveal much more about a person's character than his/ her knowledge.
In a nutshell, soft skills encompass the personality traits that influence how well one interacts with others and are ordinarily an outward manifestation of a person's personality. In a tight labor market, individuals who possess a potent combination of hard and soft skills usually feel that demand for their services is more robust and desired.
The phrase "soft skills" was coined in the late 1960s by the United States Army. Any skill that could be employed without the intervention of a machine was referred to as such in that context. Many vital tasks were classified inside this category. In fact, the social abilities necessary to manage groups, encourage warriors, and win wars were encompassed by skills that had yet to be recorded or adequately examined. Since 1959, the United States Army has invested significant resources in the technological improvement of training methods. The United States Army formally introduced a training concept known as "Systems Engineering of Training" in 1968, as detailed in the paper CON Reg 350-100-1.
In a training manual for the American Army, the terminology "soft skills" was first used in 1972. Dr. Whitmore presented a report to evaluate how "soft skills" would be seen in various CONARC universities during the 1972 CONARC Soft Skills Conference. After developing and using a questionnaire, experts came up with a new, temporary definition: "Soft skills are essential job-related skills that require little to no interaction with computers and whose application on the job is rather common."
Today, many industries place a premium on their employees' soft skills. Some companies now offer professional soft-skill training to their employees.
What is the concept behind it?
Soft skills are character traits that enable people to communicate clearly. These skillsets include interpersonal graces, language proficiency, cognitive or emotional empathy, personal habits, time management, cooperation with others, and leadership qualities. 'Soft skills' is an umbrella term divided into three main functional categories: people skills, social skills, and personal and professional attributes.
Soft skills are essential since they are not exclusive to a single career. These are a collection of psychic disposition abilities that, depending on the situation, can be applied to any aspect of people's lives without having to readapt them. The adaptability of such skills helps people to adapt to any situation and act positively to deal properly with the obstacles in their careers and daily life. People with soft skills are more adaptive in an ever-changing world.
Soft skills have gained prominence over time. Over time, there have been regular interests shown by many financial companies and international organizations investing in training and development in this area. In 2012, the European Commission launched the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs program to train and educate young people in this new set of skills.
Soft skills are a key differentiator and a requirement for success in the workplace and in life, especially in the twenty-first century. According to Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman, "programs that increase soft skills have a critical place in a successful portfolio of public policies" and "soft skills predict success in life, and that they contingently provide desired achievement." The fact that soft skills are now as significant as GPA (previously thought to be the essential criterion in making decisions) in recruiting a new worker demonstrates the importance employers place on the topic.
The increasing demand and widespread misunderstanding about the definition and training of soft skills are two factors that can explain the paucity of soft skills in the employment market. The issue affects not only young people looking for work but also current employees. According to a 2019 Society for Human Resource Management poll, about 75% of employers need help to locate graduates with the soft skills their firms require.
Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
Hard skills typically include technical or managerial proficiency. Instead of the IQ component linked to hard skills, soft skills are frequently used to refer to people's "emotional side". Hard and soft skills are frequently regarded as complementary notions. This fact indicates how closely these two sorts of abilities are related.
In earlier times, only hard skills were necessary to establish a good career. They were generally quantifiable and measurable based on a school background, work experience, or an interview. Workplace success was utterly dependent on the technical ability to complete duties. As a result, employers and businesses used to hire new employees based on their objective competencies.
The trend has shifted in recent years, thanks partly to more organizations embracing a mixed work environment. Hard skills are still crucial, but soft skills are now more significant than hard skills. According to leadership professor Robert Lavasseur, "soft skills were ranked better than technical skills" by most of the researchers he questioned on this subject. Soft skills make up 75% of long-term work success. According to Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie Mellon Foundation examinations of Fortune 500 CEOs, technological skills account for 25%. Another study discovered that soft skills account for 80% of job success while hard skills account for 20%. This explains why good soft-skill workers are currently in greater demand than good hard-skill ones.
Employers in rapidly growing industries have said that newly graduated employees have a skill gap. This skill gap exists between soft and hard skills; these recently minted employees have the required and expected hard skills but need more soft skills.
What is its significance in education?
Because of their growing importance, educators and businesses worldwide are concerned about the necessity of teaching soft skills. Because soft skills need to be better defined, teaching them is more complicated than teaching traditional skills. The first step in allowing teachers to track student growth is to let them learn how to evaluate skills.
Soft skills evaluation is more difficult in the classroom than technical skill evaluation. Group projects enhance soft skills, but judging them can be difficult. According to the researchers, peer review is a decent compromise between group effort and objective judgment. However, the research on this topic yielded both positive and negative outcomes. The study, conducted by professor Zhang of Georgia Southern University, "building any skill is an early step in building and testing a peer assessment on the scale," despite the restricted number of participants.
Developing soft skills is significantly more complex than developing hard skills since they need to interact actively with others on an ongoing basis and be open to taking behavioral feedback. Soft skills must be developed through a combination of environment and other people, whereas hard skills can be learned from books or solitary training. As a result, learning soft skills partially relies on the individual but is influenced by various factors that make teaching these skills more challenging and unpredictable.
Apart from this, teaching soft skills is also challenging as it requires the update on training medium and instrument-the degree to which what is learned in training is applied in the job and improves performance. Previous research and anecdotal evidence indicate that training hard skills is much more likely to shift or extend in the direction of soft skills training. However, this necessitates increased investment in training by corporations and organizations, which only a few are willing to do.
What are some studies that show the importance of soft skills?
Acquiring soft skills is far more difficult than developing hard skills since it necessitates constant interaction with others and being receptive to behavioral criticism. Many pieces of research have been done on the transfer of information and soft skills using project-based learning and play. Another significant finding from the literature is that to maximize the long-term advantages of soft skills, they should be concentrated on people from early childhood, specifically those aged 1 to 9 years old.
Heckman and Kautz, Nobel laureates, offered evidence for this in their examination of the Perry Preschool Soft Skills program, where they discovered that personality traits might be modified in ways that positively impact life outcomes. The initiative entailed teaching social skills to 3- and 4-year-old low-income black children with IQs less than 85. About 128 kids were enrolled in this top-notch preschool program, which strongly emphasized active learning. The children participated in several activities to help them develop their decision-making and problem-solving skills, which they planned, implemented, and reviewed with the help of adults. Additionally, teachers paid weekly 1.5-hour house visits to each child to include the mother in the learning process and assist her in carrying out the preschool curriculum at home.
Randomized controlled trials (RCT) were used to evaluate this longitudinal investigation. It was shown that, by age 40, compared to the control group who did not engage, the group that took part in the preschool enrichment program would have much higher positive life outcomes than their peers. This also represented that about 60% of the candidates from the program group would be earning more than US$20,000 per year than 40% of the non-program group. Furthermore, approximately 77% of the program group would graduate high school, whereas only 60% of the non-program group could do so. Other life outcomes included participants in the program being less likely to be arrested, owning their own homes and car, and having fewer adolescent pregnancies. All such analyzes were the result of the study conducted by Heckman and Kautz.
Other studies' findings, such as those from Krueger and Whitmore's (2001) Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) and Project PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), which taught elementary school students self-control, emotional awareness, and social problem-solving skills, were consistent with the Perry Preschool Program's conclusions. Both studies indicated that teaching soft skills to small groups of children at an early age led to significantly greater outcomes in early adulthood than their peers, as well as leading to other career victories.
What are some essential soft skills for employees to have?
When soft skills are used throughout the organization, businesses usually gain profit. For instance, fostering a collaborative environment among staff is crucial. Team members who can collaborate effectively with people of all ages and backgrounds are more productive and better able to focus on shared goals. Efficiency and output increase when workers cooperate by sharing resources and tools to perform assigned tasks. Another essential soft skill for all professions is the ability to learn new techniques and technology.
Organizations that strongly focus on learning or teaching soft skills to employees often accept different learning/ teaching preferences and hire trained or professional support staff to pursue what works best. A soft skill that is equally beneficial to organizations is effective troubleshooting for companies' barriers. If all staff members can troubleshoot software difficulties rather than relying solely on the information technology (IT) department for every patch, businesses, for instance, can operate more effectively and productively.
People skills are another name for soft skills. Some instances of soft skills include effective leadership, problem-solving, work ethic, time management, and interpersonal and communication abilities. Any position can benefit from having these traits.
What are the criticisms made against it?
While "soft skills" are increasingly being taught in educational programs around the world, some researchers have demonstrated how the word is employed inconsistently and how it is used to humiliate people rather than empower them. Deborah Cameron, for example, illustrates how the increased emphasis on "communication" skills among UK service providers has limited workers' modes of expression and established standardized conversational codes. Kori Allan explains how state-run integration programs for new immigrants in Canada emphasize soft skills for individuals to embrace Canadian interpersonal and cultural norms. However, many of these initiatives have been limited by the difficulty in quantifying these abilities and due to the reality that these abilities are more readily identifiable among the urban elite than among the democratically accessible ones. As Gil Hizi demonstrates, rather than being considered as objectively acknowledged qualities required for the labor market, Chinese people who cultivate soft skills see themselves as growing more autonomous and cosmopolitan in contradiction to the demands of their local culture.
The Bottom Line
Individuals' ability to connect with and appreciate others is crucial to their personal and professional growth. Positive interactions and connections develop trust, and productivity grows in environments that promote soft skills. Soft skills, while only occasionally acquired through formal training, are learnable. Individuals must be willing to adjust their behavior and be open to criticism to develop their soft skills. Soft skills training will aid in this situation because it aims to assist people in obtaining or strengthening their interpersonal talents. Lessons on enhancing communication, increasing active listening, settling arguments, and other topics are all parts of soft skills. Training can offer suggestions and tactics for forming behaviors like active listening and empathy for others.