What is a “soft skill”?
The Wikipedia definition is “Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotient”
So quite a lot of stuff. But note no mention of academic knowledge.
There is much press coverage about how so-called “soft skills” these will be more and more needed in the world of tomorrow – where machines and AI will be doing the routine tasks, and humans will be left doing what AI will take much longer to master……which is being HUMAN!
Just consider for instance the medical profession.
In the past the most valued doctors were those who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine in their head. In the future (say 15 – 20 years from now, when our kids have grown up) they will instead have an AI powered assistants to help diagnose a patient, and the doctor's will be to be HUMAN – coaching patients through chronic conditions, delivering bad news sympathetically, consulting on the best course of action given their personal situations etc.
The gap is growing. A TES survey showed twice as many teachers saying soft skill development was more important than academic knowledge. And the pain is still felt in the workplace - LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said that “Interpersonal skills are where we are seeing the biggest imbalance”.
The term “soft skills” sometimes gets a bad rap, unfortunately. Some worry it sounds flaky, wish-washy, and not “proper”.
Nonsense, I say. Soft skills are HARD!
First - they are hard to measure, as this LinkedIn article points out. There is no standardised “exam” for Creativity (yet). Second - soft skills also hard to teach. There is no “textbook” on Creativity, for instance. And anyway learnings tend to be best when they are experiential.
As parents however I think we can make a big difference here. We do after all spend more time with them than anybody else. I think we can all be our child’s best coaches, rounding out their skill set and getting them ready for life. But where to start?
There are so many different soft skill areas - creativity, communication, critical thinking, empathy, leadership, innovation, productivity, philosophy etc – that is sometimes hard to know where to begin.
It might be helpful to look at some existing frameworks out there. There are many but to give a sense of it, I will comment on 3 – from Ken Robinson, McKinsey and Pearson.
So lots of overlap, and some original ideas.
Creativity, communication and critical thinking do seem to be the top 3 that EVERYONE talks about! But there are plenty others too of course. As parents, I don’t think it matters which framework exactly we work towards. Just that we do something about it, and ensure we are covering multiple skills.
For another lens on this, check out our research with these parenting experts and what they picked as their top 3 soft skills.
Many of us parents I know do lots of extra curricular activities – Drama classes, Music lessons, Coding camps, Nature groups, Martial arts etc etc etc. This is all great stuff, and will teach our kids some hard “technical” skills like playing the Piano, along with the “softer” aspects like grit to keep practising and not quit (for example). But it can also be costly, and rather time consuming (I saw the agenda of a 7 year old child the other day, where every 30 minutes of waking time was accounted for!)
I would like to propose a supplementary activity. This proposed activity takes 5 minutes a day, requires zero preparation and can be done anywhere. Are you ready to hear it?
Simply put –
Talk with our kids.
Yes, good old-fashioned talking!
Acknowledging that attention spans are short in our young proteges, we can lead with simple but stimulating questions.
Some examples –
1) What are 10 different things you can do with a Cup? (Creativity)
2) In just 1 minute, describe what a Car is to an alien? (Communication)
3) How many iPads are there in the UK? (Critical thinking)
4) How would you make this sofa better? (Innovation)
5) Is there more future ahead of us, or past behind us? (Philosophy)
Etc, etc, etc
I am sure that many of us do this kind of stuff when the right moment arises. Just yesterday I had fun with my daughter asking her what animal she wanted to be and why (a Giraffe because she wants a long neck. I never quite got here to explain what she would do with this, though!)
But like you, I sometimes get a bit stuck – wanting a bit of inspiration, or some handy prompts.
I have found some good free resources out there, with one-liner questions.
To develop a rounded child - with the complete portfolio of all the different soft skills we are talking about however - I thought it might be helpful to collate lots of different types of questions and conversation starters, and organise by topic area – incorporating everything that Ken Robinson, McKinsey and Pearson talk about for example.
So we did.
On our website here you can browse lots of free “coaching cards” by topic – providing the lead question, but also additional guidance for parents, or prompts for the child, in case the conversation gets a bit stuck.
You can also sign up for more content (for FREE!).
Hundreds of parents have and I urge you to do so as well. It’s actually quite a helpful signal to us that you like this stuff, and we should collate/write more.
I’m pretty passionate about this stuff (hope it shows). So much so in fact that I have recently left my Corporate job at Elsevier, responsible for the UK / European Education business, to found a start-up company in this space.
My mission is to empower parents to develop soft skills in their kids, by providing access to hundreds of 5 minute conversation starters that can be done anywhere, anytime and with zero preparation required.
On the website you can sign up for FREE for more content. Loads already have and my aim is to build a community of parents who care about this stuff, some of whom might be keen to provide feedback on future App designs etc.
If that is you then please sign up here and I hope you have a great conversation with your child tonight.
Win a free subscription!
Our App is launching soon and 10 lucky parents on our waitlist will get a whole year's subscription free!