I almost posted a spicier question. But as I typed up the explanation, I realized that the setup was as discussion-worthy as the question itself, and it made more sense to deal with the setup question first. Tune in next week for what I hope to be a controversial question (hint: it has to do with a soft skill that is never discussed as a soft skill, because it has less to do with being a good employee, and more to do with being a good citizen).
A couple years ago, we began hearing more and more talk about the importance of teaching “soft skills.” As I have heard the term used, it generally applies to character traits considered as skills, such as the oft discussed “grit,” or interpersonal skills. In short, they are a set of skills that are important for the development of individuals that are not traditionally taught in the classroom, but that are expected of students and employees.
I take it the motivation for teaching soft skills was the recognition that many of our students lacked soft skills, and that even if they were bright, they may not be “moving” in the way. Traditionally, soft skills are merely expected of people, without any training. They are “common sense,” and a bright but unruly student might be told to “get with the program” if they lack soft skills. If a person possesses strong soft skills, that individual is much more likely to know how to present themselves, organize their life in a productive manner, how to conduct themselves in an interview, how to articulate their speech, etc, etc. An employer who meets a candidate with excellent social skills might want to hire the person within the first few moments of meeting, before even reviewing the candidates credentials. On the other hand, even a candidate with excellent credentials might miss many opportunities if they lack social skills.
Perhaps the reason that it is so important to teach soft skills in the community college revolves around a class issue: students from educated, middle-class families often teach these to their children, and many four-year schools are populated with such students. This education may not be intentional: simply having a child surrounded by such environments is enough to teach many children how to behave well. Many of our faculty and employers come from institutions where this is the norm, and we therefore adopt the expectation that this is how people should behave. But if we recognize these character traits as a skill, then we recognize that this is something that is taught, and that many of our first-generation students from working class families were not often taught these skills. They don’t behave how we expect them to, and they are shut out of the education process because of this.
This week’s questions are these: What do you think of teaching soft skills? What do you do to teach or instill soft skills? Do you believe that the premise for teaching social skills is perhaps a false or problematic one?