Soft skills are hard!

According to a Google search, “soft skills” are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Teamwork, problem-solving, work ethic, flexibility and others fall into the “soft skills” family.

For years, I have heard people refer to these soft skills as being (imagine stodgy old man voice) “critical for success in life.” Schools have invested significant time and money developing wordy action plans and implementing new instructional models all geared at embedding opportunities to learn and practice soft skills as a part of the curriculum.  

I wonder, however, if referring to these skills as “soft” we have diminished their importance? It’s like by simply saying “soft skills are important” we have acknowledged them…but have we really done anything to address the real priority they should be?

Recently I attended an economic development council event where student apprentices were honored. The students who were recognized, like the business owners recognized for their economic development accomplishments, were there because they have worked really hard.  They invest time, energy and often scarce resources to think differently, to make connections, develop partnerships and often do things most people would be afraid to do. They develop problem-solving skills, people skills and a strong work ethic because they are critical for survival. There’s definitely nothing “soft” about the skills these people learn and practice every day.

My challenge for everyone in my orbit is to stop referring to the skills that clearly differentiate successful people from those who are not as “soft.” Content knowledge is certainly important.  But that can all be learned. Let’s celebrate people who have the other stuff nailed and learn from them. Let’s also encourage our friends and colleagues to learn from them as well.  

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