Soft Skills in the Workplace and Higher Education: A Manifesto and Rant
This is no surprise to me after 36 years in higher education. But what bothers me is the term "soft skills." Talk about a misnomer.
If they are necessary, how could they be "soft," which implies "nice to have to sort of cushion the blow, but not really vital?" Please.
Empathy, leadership, goal-setting and execution, collaboration, writing, oral communication skills, cross-cultural awareness and competencies--these are soft? Are these easier to teach and learn than technical skills?
I heard a joke from a prof (female) at Georgia Tech. "How do you tell an extroverted engineer from an introverted engineer? The extroverted one looks at your shoes when talking to you." Ha, ha. Kind of sad, really.
Are the soft skills just personality-based? I do not think so. Anyone who has taught communication skills, the so-called "soft skills" for a long time believes you can teach them to anyone (although he/she won't be Mr./Ms. Charismatic, just competent), but it takes time. It is hard and takes a desire from the learner. Yes, some of us are just born with them in a larger measure, or have life experiences that inculcate them, but everyone can improve, despite one's Meyers-Briggs delineation.
When I hear a student, a senior especially, is too shy to give a presentation such as at a research conference, I lack empathy, not because I don't understand but because the student is giving into a fear and choosing to be unemployable. Professors in higher education should not facilitate this kind of "giving in" and should ask, demand more of their students.