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by William Singleton

For the past 10 years, we’ve provided training and program evaluations to teams across the biomedical research community. And for such a highly technical industry, you’d probably be surprised to hear that the most valuable skills we’ve taught and/or observed were not technical at all!

Soft skills (i.e. leadership, empathy, positive attitude) are arguably the most important for any team or organization. Ironically, they are often the hardest to learn and consistently the least taught.

Maybe one of the challenges with the idea of soft skills is in the name. The word “soft” might have a connotation of being a bit squishy, or even cute and cuddly like a stuffed animal – so what exactly is a “soft” skill? The term was first introduced in the military to distinguish between work on mechanical items (hard skills) versus work dealing directly with people (soft skills).

Soft skills are often hard to define and difficult to measure. So it’s no wonder the idea of incorporating them into requirements for employment and ongoing training have not always been embraced by many institutions. It is much easier to quantify hard skills like educational background, work experience, and technical training, which is why these are more traditionally used to satisfy job expectations. Similarly, training and development has leaned more towards hard skills because they are assessed, taught and measured in straight-forward methods.

The body of data regarding the importance of soft skills in the workplace is mounting.
The need to engage with individuals in meaningful and productive ways is being seen as equal to and, in some cases more important than, the technical abilities and knowledge we bring to the work we do. Institutions that want to succeed recognize soft skills as essential for their workforce. They hire strong candidates that have these competencies and skills, and offer training to support growth among their employees. Additionally, they develop novel metrics to measure their effectiveness in the workplace.

It may be a while before we adjust the language of hard vs soft skills, but at least we can start today to recognize the importance of soft skills and emphasizing the need for them in the workplace. How will you begin to prioritize training and development in these critical (softer) areas among your team?

AuthorCaroline Thompson