Stop Calling Them Soft Skills; They're Essential Skills

Written By: Trevor Muir

Entrepeneur.com put out an article about the top 11 reasons millenials get fired, and the top five are: the need for independence, lack of confidence, anxiety, miscommunication, and that millenials lack vision. Essentially, the main reason millennials get fired is because they can’t collaborate, they lack confidence in themselves and their decisions, which can lead to anxiety, they struggle presenting and communicating, and are not critically thinking to see overall goals and vision.

These are what we in the education world call “soft skills.”

They’re secondary to the “essential” work of school, which is English, math, science, history, algebra, British Literature, the starting and end date of the French Revolution, what an igneous rock is- okay, now I’m being sarcastic.

I think it’s time we stop calling them soft skills, because there’s nothing soft about getting fired from your job, or never getting hired in the first place.


We need to call them what they really are: essential skills. They are skills that are absolutely necessary to thrive in the modern world. I mean, how is the ability to collaborate not the most emphasized standard in the Common Core? It’s not even its own standard! It’s no wonder people are being fired for not knowing how to work together; we don’t teach it. We don’t emphasize it. And the result is division and the inability to seek compromise. Sound familiar?

Young adults struggle with confidence. I wonder if having kids take roughly 112 mandatory high-stakes tests between kindergarten and senior year, tests that only measure a sliver of who you really are and what you’re really capable of, but are the deciding factor for your future, has anything to do with it. I wonder if that has anything to do with skyrocketing anxiety as well?

People are fired for not having vision; for thinking they are just a cog in a machine? For many students, that’s what school is for them. Sit quietly, learn this information, regurgitate it on a test, and then move to the next level. We want millennials to see the big picture and understand why they’re doing certain tasks? Maybe this should start with school, and if we can’t explain why students are learning a certain subject, then we shouldn’t teach it.

People struggle to communicate? Well, have we taught them to communicate? Or are they sitting in rows most of the time, not being allowed to talk.

“But I have to have them do that. They’ve got to learn this information. I’m accountable for them to do well on these tests!”

And that’s exactly my point. This isn’t teachers’ fault. It’s a systematic error.

We need to change things up, and I think that starts with us stop calling communication, collaboration, critical thinking, work ethic, and confidence “soft skills.” Instead, let’s call them “essential skills.” Because they are essential, arguably more essential than your ability to memorize facts and equations.

“But wait, we can measure someone’s ability to memorize facts and equations. We can’t do that with those skills.”

Oh, is that why we put so much more emphasis on the hard skills, because they’re easier to measure and keep track of, and compare?

Not a good enough reason.

Because 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers say that soft skills are just as important, if not more important, than hard skills.

Am I saying we should stop teaching the core subjects in school? No! An educated society is a healthier society, and we still need to know how to read, write, solve, observe, experiment, and learn subject matter. But I do think we need to adjust the benchmarks a bit, and not just emphasize knowing the information, but also how students obtain it. And present it. And what they do with it.

We need to teach essential skills. And the truth is, when students have these fundamental skills, and are confident, creative, critical thinking, hard working collaborators, you’ll find learning that other stuff comes much easier. And they can still do well on those big, bad tests.

Although, I think we should change those up too. But that’s for another article.