Is the end near for soft skills?
Some folks in the corporate world say that soft skills should be a thing of the past.
To be clear, they’re not calling for the skills themselves to be abolished, or saying they’re no longer useful, but they claim a terminology change is required and these skills should no longer be called ‘soft.’
The reasoning behind this is that people may view the word soft in a negative light. Maybe they see these skills as being less important than hard or tech skills, which undermines the true value of these necessary skills.
Professional trainers and educators know that soft skills, or whatever you prefer to call them, are critical in the workplace and in life. They help ease social interactions and allow us to work together while making the most of our personalities, intelligence, and capability for learning. Courses that teach these types of skills, such as conflict resolution, gap analysis, workplace wellness, and meeting management, are vital for any modern business.
“While ‘soft’ skills may seem like a convenient shorthand, the term is out-of-date, confusing, inaccurate, and gender-biased,” writes career coach Dr. Ann Villiers. “It’s time for career development practitioners, researchers, teachers, trainers, educators, employers and parents to stop using this incorrect and misleading term.
It’s important to look at this skills terminology question and give it the consideration it deserves from a training standpoint.
We all know that words have weight and are among some of the most powerful tools ever created. So it’s fair to think about renaming soft skills to another term that’s more in line with the importance of these skills.
Communication skills and interpersonal skills, for example, provide the foundation that allows us to function every day. They also pave the way for us to learn and master the so-called hard or technical skills. If you can’t communicate, you can’t understand what’s being taught, or can’t get your message across. If that happens – if there’s no communication – then it’s impossible to understand what you need to know to learn a new computer programming language, for instance.
So, what’s the solution? How do we replace the term soft skills while still keeping these workplace skills in our tool box as trainers, business people, and members of society?
Dr. Villiers suggests there are suitable alternative terms based on how the skills are gathered together.
“When grouping several specific, career-critical skills, use employability or transferable skills,” she says.
Writing in Forbes Magazine, leadership strategist Dan Pontefract says there are other, more suitable options than the word soft.
“I believe it is imperative that we (finally) retire the term “soft skills” and replace it with “professional skills” (or at least “leadership skills”) to accurately reflect the true importance and impact of these abilities in today’s organizations.”
The fact is, regardless of what these skills are called, they are every bit as important as computer and technology skills. A well-rounded employee should have a certain level of competency with both types of skills, as well as the capacity to learn more skills and use them in the workplace.
Whatever term is applied to them, it’s our role as trainers to ensure that these employment skills exist and are accessible today and in the future.