Why are they called “Soft” Skills?

By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed., CRC
Transition Specialist

If they are soft, why are they so crucial in this hard, cruel world? As a transition specialist, I meet with young adults and their parents on a daily basis. All parents want to know what is that missing piece for child to really succeed after high school? What should my priorities be? Is the right college more important than the right internship or vise versa? I often hear the saying, “I remember in my day, you just dusted yourself off and kept going. Why is this new generation struggling?”

While I don’t have an answer to those profound questions, I can offer some go-to skills that will support our young adults as they transition from high school to college, the world of work and the great beyond…soft skills—those intangible, hard-to-pin-down skills that we all know we need to succeed, but are so hard to teach. As a wise practitioner once told me, “Just because it is simple, it doesn’t make it easy.” While it’s critical to teach, prepare and equip our students with the necessary skills for academic success, soft skills can be just as important in many instances. Young adults need a balance of academic, executive functioning, communication and soft skills to set themselves up for success in their multi-faceted life after high school. These soft skills can make the difference between candidates competing for college acceptance and job opportunities.

I also like to refer to these skills as the job keeping and high achieving skills. Strong foundational academic, planning and team-building skills are necessary for success, but these soft skills are the subtle differences observed in the student chosen for that internship by the professor and recognized in the entry-level employee who quickly advances to the mentor employee.

In my practice, I am witness to amazing, capable, energizing and unique young adults, who are unaware of the many talents and strengths they already possess. I work to coach, teach and persuade them that these soft skills are in there, but are struggling to make an appearance. The key is identifying them and knowing when to call on them in stressful times. As a transition specialist, I offer the young people I meet with the opportunities to name and own these skills within themselves. For example, when a teenager is struggling with school, but shows up every day, I introduce them to their “grit,” their get-up- and-go and “try again” skill.  By identifying skills that may just be lying dormant or unrecognized, I offer them a chance to see that they have an innate strength that has both a name and a purpose. These skills are not only necessary, but are transferable to all aspects of their future lives. Their internal grit pushes them to go to class when their roommate is sleeping in and go to work even though they have a cold and could call out sick.

By definition, students ready to transition from high school are at an age and stage of curiosity, exploration, hope and optimism. But they may easily miss out on identifying these characteristics as strengths and skills, if we do not point it out and celebrate it with them. When they are resisting rules and boundaries, they are employing their skills of curiosity and exploration. When they want to protest against inequity in this unfair world and are perceived as naive and inexperienced, I praise their hope and optimism. We talk about how these soft skills are integral to their success as an adult and will serve them as they continue to grow and learn.

Young adults in our current society have no other option than to be flexible and adaptable. Technology is constantly updating and changing, forcing them to move forward or be left behind. Their resilience in handling all that social media exposes them to on a daily basis is admirable. I wouldn’t have stood as tall and strong as they do with such public scrutiny.

As we prepare our young adults for life after high school, let us always take the time to see, name and recognize the strengths and soft skills they show us. We have the opportunity to observe and learn from them and value these skills so that they may offer themselves as resources to their community. The balance necessary to teach young people how to manage an interdependent world as an adult is complicated. It is exciting and energizing to witness young people find these strengths within themselves, helping them to conquer that great big world.

 

About the Author:

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. CRC is a deeply knowledgeable and experienced transition specialist. Prior to her tenure at NESCA, Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training. She has also worked at Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and privately as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Pignone brings unique expertise carrying out vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as supporting local school programs. In addition to fortifying NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching services.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

To book a transition assessment or consultation with Kathleen, please complete NESCA’s online intake form