‘Soft Skills’ Are Essential For Success

If you ask people what is taught in a typical public-school classroom, they often list specific subject areas like math, English, social studies and science. These content areas have long been the focus of lesson planning and delivery in public schools. However, when you ask people what they need to know to be successful in their careers, the answer is hardly ever content-based. Instead, it is related to skills.

In an effort to understand what makes people successful at work, Google reviewed data about employment, termination and promotion since the foundation of the company. The study showed that 21st-century skills or “soft skills” were among the most important attributes needed to succeed in today’s workforce. These include skills like problem solving, critical thinking, work ethic, effective decision making and communication, and other skills that contribute to working successfully both independently and in a group. With jobs requiring more collaboration than ever, teachers are focusing on how to grow soft skills in their students.

Of paramount importance are skills related to emotional intelligence. According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence includes identifying and managing emotions in yourself and others. People with high emotional intelligence are able to identify and control their own emotions and encourage or calm others, making them capable of engaging in high level critical thinking and problem-solving tasks. People with high emotional intelligence are valuable members of collaborative teams who exhibit leadership skills and communicate effectively.

Educators in West Virginia are tasked with carrying out the Framework for 21st Century Learning, a set of standards and guidelines that helps to address this need for soft skills. The framework focuses on independent learning and thinking skills, technology literacy and important life skills. Teachers must, and do, strive to incorporate these skills into daily lessons.

As teachers, and as parents, it is important that we don’t assume our children have these skills innately or pick them up naturally. Instead, we have to explicitly teach soft skills, assist our children with practicing the skills, provide feedback as they develop the skills and reinforce the skills when our children use them independently. Their future success depends on our ability and willingness to assist them in developing these skills.

Nicole Shepherd is the behavior specialist and alternative education coordinator for Ohio County Schools. She is a board certified behavior analyst. Shepherd began her career in 2010 as a special educator.