Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Hard Skills” vs. “Soft Skills”

Students learn a lot of things in college.  At least, faculty and staff HOPE they do!  One category of knowledge is called hard skills and is in the description of the class on the student’s schedule:  Math 140, History 201, Psychology 120 – in other words, mathematics, history, and psychology.  Hard skills also include the name of the career students choose to enter, such as teaching, engineering, welding, nursing, etc.  Job descriptions for open positions in these fields often list hard skills specific to that profession.  While sometimes there are proficiencies in hard skills shared across professions, many types of employment have a list that is unique.

Our students come here to acquire the hard skills that will get them a job in the field they want to enter.  An ability to develop increasingly difficult or higher-level hard skills can take a person through years of schooling after high school, and a person good at this can often get several advanced degrees.  A wall full of diplomas will probably get a person hired, but good soft skills will keep a person working.  This is the other type of knowledge we hope students are developing during their time here.  Soft skills are abilities like time and project management, empathy, impulse control, emotional intelligence, cooperation, responsibility, and motivation.  These skills can be transferred to any field of work and also to one’s personal life.  Good soft skills make for good team players, whether that team is a work group of six energy rate specialists or a couple in a romantic relationship.  No employee wants to collaborate with someone who is unable to work effectively with other people, and very few individuals can sustain long-term relationships with that person either.

Position announcements often give a more detailed description of the hard skills needed to fill an opening, but if you look closely at the requirements, you’ll see the soft skills in there as well.  Here’s an excerpt for job requirements for a community college librarian, with the soft skills highlighted (by me) in yellow:

Students universally hate team projects.  I hated team projects when I was a student, that’s for sure.  But as I’ve told dozens of students, there is no job in existence in which you don’t have to deal with people, so developing good soft skills in college is just one more way we prepare our students for success in the workplace, and in their personal lives as well.

By, Sue Andrus

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