Soft skills, hard skills, technical skills, transferrable skills…. there’s so much talk about all these different types of skills, but what exactly is the difference? Five years ago, employers were screaming that they needed employees with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) skills. And while that is still true today, the big push right now is for soft skills.
Why the big push for soft skills? Instant data, rapidly evolving technology, and consumers dissatisfied with a one-size-fits-all mentality are forcing companies to change how they do business. Top-down management structure, work divided up into departments, leadership established by seniority, project collaboration only occurring at senior levels of management, and mass production of a one-size-fits-all product are all remnants of the Industrial Age. Technology is changing rapidly, and innovation requires the freedom to think outside the box without fear of what the boss might think. As a result, companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Ideo have moved away from the old hierarchal paradigm and embraced a collaborative team paradigm that brings all disciplines to the table, gives them the latitude to think outside the box and take action on ideas without fear of having to wait for approval from management.
However, to operate in a collaborative team environment companies realized employees need an additional skill set. Make no mistake, STEM skills are still important. Those skills get you in the door, but to flourish in your career, you need soft skills. Now getting back to the original question, “What is the difference between hard and soft-skills?”
The easy definition is hard skills are measurable while soft skills are not. Take typing speed. It’s easy to figure out your typing speed. Just pick a random page out of a book, set the timer for one minute, and type as much as you can until the timer goes off. Then go back and count how many words you typed correctly. If you typed 100 words in one minute but only 52 of them were correct, then your typing speed is 52 words per minute. That number is a hard fact; hence, typing is a hard skill.
Now let’s contrast that to a soft skill such as teamwork, collaboration, or interpersonal communication skills. Those are much harder to measure. Any type of evaluation is going to be subjective and not black and white; therefore, it’s a soft skill, but there’s nothing “soft” or easy about them. They are harder to master because you must work at them every day and learn how to overcome your own emotions, desires, and ego. I mastered typing in six weeks but overcoming my own ego in group situations so that I remain objective and don’t fall prey to my own emotions is a lifelong battle. However, it’s these types of skills that build character, integrity, great leaders, and give you the power to move upward in your career. We need to stop calling them “soft” skills and start calling them power skills. Not only do they help you move up in your career, but they also define who you are.
Victoria Hinojosa is a member of the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Navigator team for Workforce Solutions. She specializes in training and educating community partners, Workforce Solutions staff, and job seekers throughout the 13-county region. Prior to joining the Regional Team, she served over eight years at the Texas State University Career Services Center as a Recruiting Coordinator preparing college students for the workforce. Ms. Hinojosa holds a B.A. in Mass Communications from Texas State University.