Why Teach Soft Skills?

Recently, soft skills instruction has reappeared as a topic of high interest in education. Publications and policies of the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education have indicated a specific interest in soft skills development in basic education programs serving the needs of the growing basic education student and worker populations. This is in line with what private employers and small businesses are asking for.  Employers have consistently expressed a need for skilled worker populations who can fill tomorrow’s entry-level jobs, including not only “college and career ready” academic skills, but also specific soft skills.
According to most hiring employers, soft skills such as communication skills, relationship skills, working in teams, demonstrating work ethic, goal orientation, planning and time management, and even “following instructions,” are not only lacking in today’s entry-level worker populations, they are required to keep jobs. They are required to demonstrate value to an employer and contribute to organizational or business  success. The links below contain recent publications, research, and blog posts, all discussing the need for effective systems of soft skills development. Whatever your focus (adult literacy, basic education and high school equivalency, special programs with at-risk youth learners, or any other basic education service working to develop tomorrow’s entry-level workers), should you be teaching soft skills too?

Recent research suggests that soft skills and certain personality traits may predict success in life (in things like labor market success, overall educational achievement, crime, health) better than secondary credentials such as the GED. Programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in education in general.

In the Seattle Jobs Initiative’s recent survey on the importance of soft skills, 75% of employers say soft skills are as important or more important than technical skills in entry-level employment. National surveys of employers paint a similar picture, and research on predicting the future career success of students supports employers’ opinions: some soft skills are better than  technical skills as a predictor of adult success (in things like salary, graduation, and home ownership).

McDonald’s backs soft skills. Based on a recent study, McDonald’s estimates that as of January 2015, soft skills such as listening and communicating effectively, being positive, managing conflict, accepting responsibility, working well with others, managing time, and accepting criticism are “worth over £88 billion in ‘Gross Value Added’ to the UK economy.” This amounts to around 6.5% of the economy as a whole.”

Did you know that 46 percent of new hires fail in the first 18 months and 89 percent of them failed for reasons related to “attitude”? Only 11 percent failed due to a lack of “hard” technical skills.  In most jobs, effective work performance requires specific technical skills. But what about non-technical skills, such as an employee’s ability to communicate, form relationships, and prioritize tasks? These soft skills are often marginalized in education and training programs. However, they are just as crucial to business success as the more recognized “hard skills.” Seventy-seven percent of employers say so. 

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