“Soft Skills,” the leading term in education for creative, emotional intelligence and habits of mind skills, has been under attack over the past couple of years by those wishing to replace the word “soft” with “life”, “essential” or “professional.” The rationale is that “soft” isn’t serious enough to describe the importance of the skills described above. But these words present definitional inaccuracies while a better word exists.
The Problem with “Life”, “Essential” and “Professional” Skill Definitions
To understand why these terms are insufficient, consider the employer demand model of STEM + Soft Skills. Both employers and educators seek to deliver a combination of content mastery like STEM and Soft Skills like creativity, critical-thinking, collaboration, communication, emotional intelligence and habits of mind skills. The goal is a primed pump of foundational information to work from and the thinking capacity to make something of the base content. With this understanding in hand, it’s easy to see that “life”, “essential” and “professional” labels for soft skills are inadequate, as STEM and foundational skills remain a key and necessary part of the thinking skills formula. And melding STEM and the variety of soft skills into a single category of “Professional Skills” defeats the purpose of describing an accurate education and workforce development process.
“Soft” is Good Enough for the Computer Industry
Moving back to the argument for the continued use of “Soft Skills,” I often point out to educators that, in the information industry, no one has any issue with “software” not being serious enough for primetime use. Further, the differentiation between “software” and “hardware” is applicable to understanding education: “Soft Skills” like creativity are like “software,” while STEM content mastery is like “hardware” storage of data to manipulate. Thus, if “soft” is good enough for the most impactful economic era so far through history and one which continues to drive our current day evolution, I’m of the mind that it’s a pretty damn powerful word that should be embraced by education.