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Can Soft Skills Be Taught in a Classroom?

More and more companies are measuring soft skills in their work force and evaluating their impact on performance. Only recently do we have evidence that soft skills may be age- and occupation-related.  This is based on four different studies.  The first two studies were conducted in the fall of 2008.  Nine hundred college freshmen from two Midwest universities were asked to respond to an assessment that measures 23 specific soft skills.  The results from both groups (business and engineering majors) indicated that, as a group, they have almost no mastery in these 23 soft skills. In fact, their lowest scores were in decision making.

In the spring of 2009, a small group of seniors were given the same survey.  The results showed only a slight improvement.

Curriculum or Practice?

Looking at the numbers, it is becoming more and more apparent that certain soft skills cannot be taught in the classroom.  To mention a few:

Interpersonal Skills
Personal Effectiveness
Futuristic Thinking
Self-Management
Diplomacy
Goal Orientation
Flexibility

To support this hypothesis, a group of employed adults (1632) were given the same assessments. Specifically, the research was looking for correlations among people who are passionate about knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Many Ph.D.s fall into this category.  The evidence was very clear on all 23 soft skills:  There were no correlations strong enough to predict a person will actually develop soft skills based on curriculum knowledge.  The assessment used did not measure their knowledge of the skills; it measured their mastery of the skills and the use of these skills in their work.  In other words, Do they walk their talk?

The bookstores are full of self-help books that would lead you to think that buying a book can lead to developing and mastering certain soft skills.  Merely reading a book on how to persuade others will not make you a successful sales person.

So what are we to do? The knowledge needs to be incorporated into activities, experiences and games.  Practicing what you preach is the most promising method of developing soft skills.

First, make a comment if you have some ideas to make this work. Second, contact us if you want to learn about how you rank with your personal soft skills. Our phone number is 901-757-4434.

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Voss Graham

CEO / Sr Business Advisor at InnerActive Consulting Group Inc
Voss Graham is an Organizational Architect with 30+ years of experience designing sustainable business growth for organizations of all sizes. Creating the Strategic Focus with the Executive Leadership Teams, he uses Systems & Process to ensure the Drivers for Business Growth are Executed at the Highest Levels. Voss is available as a Speaker for your conferences or company meetings - contact him at 901-757-4434 or use the LinkedIn or Facebook direct messages.

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Voss Graham

Voss Graham is an Organizational Architect with 30+ years of experience designing sustainable business growth for organizations of all sizes. Creating the Strategic Focus with the Executive Leadership Teams, he uses Systems & Process to ensure the Drivers for Business Growth are Executed at the Highest Levels. Voss is available as a Speaker for your conferences or company meetings - contact him at 901-757-4434 or use the LinkedIn or Facebook direct messages.

Comments (3)

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    Diana

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    As a workforce development professional, I completely agree with the premise that workers need soft skills to be successful on the job. That being said, I think that this entry makes a leap in logic, at least based on the information given.

    It’s not possible, based on what this entry says about these studies, to conclude that soft skills cannot be taught in the classroom. What can be concluded is that current curricula do not produce increases in soft skills. In other words, teaching someone the content knowledge required for a business or engineering degree does not automatically confer either knowledge of or ability to demonstrate soft skills. From the information that’s given in this entry, it does not seem that the relationship between a curriculum designed to teach soft skills and the actual demonstration of those skills was studied.

    I definitely believe in the effectiveness of experiential learning activities. However, there is nothing in these studies to indicate that a curriculum that explicitly teaches soft skills is ineffective. Would such a curriculum be more effective if paired with experiential learning activities? I don’t doubt it. But to leap to the conclusion that soft skills can’t be taught in the classroom based on the findings of these studies is a logical fallacy.

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    Jennifer

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    I keep listening to the news speak about getting sales help so I have been looking around for the best site to get some.:)

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    Afg

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    The negative correlation between soft skills (Interpersonal Skills in particular) and technogenic skills is stymying invention. But why does it have to be this way? One reason is that engineering schools pack their students full with hard skills, requiring about 210 credits (vs 180 for a “full time” degree). Also, the classes are time consuming. If there is any country that adresses this correlation directly, even if now they are a backwater third world economy, they have a good shot at being the next Japan or Korea some day.

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