Are soft skills the new hard skills? I asked this question six years ago. I would now suggest that hard skills are really temporary skills. They come and go according to the economy and the state of technology. Today, we need very few people who know how to shoe a horse. Soft skills are permanent ones. In a recent New York Times article the company LinkedIn had identified a number of currently in-demand skills.
Cloud Computing Expertise
Data Mining and Statistical Analysis
Smartphone App Development
Data Storage Engineering and Management
User Interface Design
Network Security Expertise
Companies are realizing that they can train for hard (temporary) skills so they are focusing on hiring for soft (permanent, meta skills).
“In Rocket Center, where rocket engines were once built and some composite materials for American fighter jets are manufactured today, IBM occupies a few buildings and employs 350 people, including Mr. Bridges. They are working on cloud computing, cybersecurity, application development and help desks.
In the last two years, nearly a third of IBM’s new hires there and in a few other locations have not had four-year college degrees. IBM has jointly developed curriculums with the local community college, as well as one-year and two-year courses aligned with the company’s hiring needs.” —New York Times 2017-06-28
Most of these permanent (soft) skills are what separates humans from machines. For the past several centuries we have used human labour to do what machines cannot. First the machines caught up with us, and surpassed humans, with their brute force. Now they are surpassing us with their brute intelligence. There is not much more need for machine-like human work which is routine, standardized, or brute.
This requires a rethinking of how we categorize work, define jobs, attract and retain talent. And I mean talent, not labour. It also means a rethinking of our entire education system. These permanent (soft) skills are not developed through standardized curriculum based on temporary (hard) skills. It’s time to take the long-term view on human work and learning. Labour is a temporary skill for market and technological conditions. Talent is our long-term value as humans to each other.
Love this perspective, it completely changes how we can view ourselves as useful in the workplace and as technology changes more frequently is more likely to be a bigger factor in future. Plus, better soft skills makes everything else better too.
Thanks for this Harold. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared it. It’s so useful.
I appreciate the feedback, Chris. It’s nice to know what readers find useful!
Thanks for the much needed perspective shift on “soft” and “hard” skills. The classification is relevant but the labels are outdated. They tend to subconsciously undermine the more important human capabilities, with associations of “soft” with flaky, weak, optional, and subordinate against something stronger, tangible, and solid.
Some have tried to argue along the lines of “soft skills are the new hard skills” but that is a lost battle. Your suggestion of permanent versus impermanent is a more useful way for us to understand them. Soft skills are permanent because they originate from our core biologically evolved behaviors, get molded through psychological development right from birth (actually even earlier), and are portable across domains, industries, cultures. Maybe we need to promote the use of “portable and locked-in skills” as well as “primary and secondary skills” as replacements to “soft and hard skills”.
Thanks, RG. I like the idea of ‘portable’ versus ‘locked-in’ skills 🙂