published Monday, April 1st, 2013

Smith: Soft skills: Career success is often tied to intangibles

By Robin Smith
  • photo
    Robin Smith, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and congressional candidate.
    File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Unemployment continues to be an authentic problem with a real unemployment rate at 14.3 percent in February which includes those who are underemployed.

The continuing uncertainty of tax policy and the rising costs and government mandates involving health care yields the fear of hiring amid these challenges.

Disproportionately, the economic recession of the last six years has made its harshest impact on new college graduates and those under 35 years of age. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rates for ages 18-29 years are almost double that of other adults.

Many of these elements are outside the control of the average student graduating from college or working to earn their way.

However, one area that is certainly within the control of each worker, regardless of age, is the area of soft skills.

Soft skills are not the more easily taught and measured capabilities such as programming a computer, monitoring a machine's operations, or following a financial protocol.

Hard skills are observable, measurable and typically taught by one who's mastered the needed technique or capability. These skills are pretty fixed within a certain job or position.

Yet, it seems the real problem is "soft skills", those people skills that are practiced among family and friends but frequently never refined for the job setting. These aptitudes and attitudes are many times the items that may either prevent an opportunity or cost a job.

Recently, on business with several individuals in a large city, we encountered a young "professional" whose style destroyed her substance.

In a board room awaiting other people to join us, a paid intern who was in graduate school had difficulty focusing on the needs of the meeting while dealing with her apparel. During the almost 20-minute delay, her iPhone garnered a good deal of attention as her facial expressions changed visibly in response to either text messages or emails as they bounced into her cyberspace. Even after our meeting commenced, the 20-something in this major firm drew glares of frustration from our tardy business hosts.

Soft skills are our verbal and non-verbal skills of communication, which most importantly include listening; the ability to manage ourselves through time management; manners; self-confidence; teamwork; and the ability to move beyond a task list.

Most of these skills are never taught; they're developed in our daily habits and need to be "unlearned" and replaced with better communication, problem solving and a disciplined pattern of behavior yielding success.

Last summer, Gov. Bill Haslam traveled the state engaging in discussions about the need for workforce development to boost economic success and competitiveness. Granted, education, with a focus on college education, was the noted ingredient of success, yet these "soft skills" were identified by Tennessee companies as intangible but absolutely necessary for a skilled workforce.

Indeed, our nation's economy needs an infusion of pro-growth policies to unleash the potential to create jobs. Extracting the politicians who live their lives on the election calendar rather than within a business plan of five, 10 or 20 years would be most beneficial as well.

But, in the meantime, don't underestimate the value of these skills that will equip you in a competitive environment.

It is All Fool's Day almost every day in Washington, D.C. But, the joke's on those who ignore the value of soft skills.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm.

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Rickaroo said...

Soft skills might be a good thing. But soft journalism is not! I might as well have been reading the back of a cereal box as to read this article. C'mon, Robin Smith. Write something with some meat to it, something we can sink our teeth into. Not this mushy cold oatmeal.

April 2, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.
hartley said...

Super article Robin! As you said, soft skills are not normally taught in schools, but we have created online lessons targeted to train soft skills - see us at and I think you will be impressed!


April 3, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"The continuing uncertainty of tax policy and the rising costs and government mandates involving health care yields the fear of hiring amid these challenges."

This is pure BS. There is no "fear" of hiring. The reason there is no hiring is because there is no NEED of hiring. Or in other words, no demand. If people were paid a decent living wage, more people would have money to buy things, demand would increase, production would need to be increased, and then employers would hire more people, regardless of uncertainty about tax policy or health care mandates. DEMAND is the number one reason more jobs are created.

JIM, "soft skills" are nothing more than common sense, courtesy, good grammar in writing and speaking, and the ability to focus on the task at hand. These are "skills" that most people should have learned as kids at home and in their basic education. Those skills are oftentimes a natural part of the learning process that takes place in a study of the liberal arts, the very sort of studies that the corporate worshipers like to disparage as a waste of time. If ever there are cuts to be made in a school's curriculum it is always some part(s) of the liberal arts program that get slashed first. If we really want to give our kids a complete education, we have to realize that the liberal arts are just as important as any business, science, math, and engineering courses.

I checked out your website. It appears that you have hit upon a way to make money from clueless, gullible souls who lack the common sense to realize that they don't need to pay someone to learn those "soft skills."

April 4, 2013 at 10:50 a.m.
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