November 27, 2022

Soft skills: what they are, why they are important and how they differ from hard skills

The need that for some years has characterized our contemporary world in approaching increasingly complex dynamics is realized with the ability to master the so-called soft skills, aka transversal skills. The Anglo-Saxon terminology that refers to the sum of the skills in question evokes an image that is both complementary and opposite to those that are configured as the skills traditionally learned in the cycles of education, or hard skills. With the latter we mean the skills that can be easily analyzed from a quantitative point of view and related to those elements that typically find a place in a curriculum vitae: degree,  various and similar qualifications and so on.

With soft skills, on the other hand, the focus is on a series of elements which, although at first glance are difficult to recognize, should not be considered as vague and inconsistent abilities. On the contrary, they are identified with a precise and particularly wide range of skills and attitudes that act, as indicated by the name, transversely to the skills traditionally acquired in the field of education and then applied in work. They do not only represent an aim to achieve for greater professionalism but also the means to better manage one’s school or academic path and relate positively to existential path.

If it is generally said that hard skills offer knowledge, soft skills shape a general attitude of the individual to relate to the elements, professional and otherwise, with which they interact. More than the what, they focus on the how, and this further increases its importance (and the related demand for learning) in a world accustomed to moving more and more quickly, precisely and efficiently.

It is therefore impossible to separate the concept of soft skills from that of resilience (which is sometimes included in the detailed list of skills in question). The term originally emerges from technical language, to indicate the ability of a material to resist dynamic forces, absorbing energy. It  was then adopted in the psychological field, to indicate the ability to positively relate to change, exploiting its effects in order to obtain even better results and existential conditions than the initial ones. The concept therefore differs from that of resistance, traditionally referred to the attitude to resist adverse events, and in general to change. On the contrary, resilience is the ability to shape change, however unleashed by potentially negative and adverse causes, in a positive and ameliorative sense. It is therefore logical to weave a connection between the development of soft skills and the creation of a greater sense of resilience, which takes on all the more importance as the world changes.

Historically, the demand for soft skills represents a necessity on the part of companies, and a relatively recent awareness on the part of the world of education. For decades, the skills required by companies were hard skills. By changing the paradigm of reference, and therefore changing the needs of companies and organizations, the increasing demand for collaborators with soft skills has begun to emerge which go to grasp the many aspects that, as we will see, represent the broad portfolio of the skills. In recent years, then, the trend of generating value for the company has shifted decisively in favor of the latter, giving rise to the need to create specific related learning paths. Obviously, the link between strictly technical and soft skills remains clear, with the former becoming even more functional with the implementation of the latter.

If we wanted to summarize the wide range of skills destined to have more and more space and functionality in the development of the 21st century, it is important to keep in mind how they act in a holistic sense: they feed each other and are strengthened especially if we consider them as a whole. Among the countless skills it is possible to identify the following, which do not exclude the equally numerous connectable:

– Leadership skills;

– Critical thinking;

– Problem solving;

– Public Speaking;

– Storytelling;

– Teamwork;

– Emotional intelligence.

In the next articles, an analysis by groups of the main and related types of skills will follow, with subsequent reference to how they are functional both for the world of education and for the professional world.

Written by Vincenzo Orsi

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