Soft Skills/My First Generation Gap

I’ve been reading a lot about soft skills lately and must admit this is a relatively new term for me. I’m not sure if I’m just suddenly getting old, but I find myself responding to the idea of “soft skills” with thoughts of “well, in my day. . . or when I went to school. . .” and thinking about the role of our schools today.

Soft skills are defined in the June 12, 2007 edition of Education Week, pg. 8, as “professionalism and work ethic. . .demonstrating personal accountability and effective work habits, such as punctuality, working productively with others, time and workload management.”

I have to say that these are skills that are extremely important in my administrative position and they’re probably the skills that I’m most proficient at in my work. I also have to say that these are not skills that I learned in school. I learned them at home. Now I promise not to go down that road of “it’s the parent’s job”, I get that it’s our responsibility when parenting is lacking. But honestly, these are largely skills to which every person in my family held true.

I grew up in a blue collar town, a coal mining town, and every person I knew and looked up to worked in an office, the coal mine, the steel mills. My grandfather worked as a postman and later became postmaster and I thought that was akin to being the president of the United States.

Here’s the thing about growing up in that atmosphere, everyone worked. That’s what defined them, that’s what was expected of me when I turned 15 years old and that’s what defines me today.

Punctuality? Cripe, it never would have entered the mind of either of my parents to go to work late. And if someone was coming to pick me up, my mother had me standing at the door 15 minutes early so they wouldn’t have to wait for me. I don’t think my father ever missed work, except when he was hospitalized after a cave in at the coal mine. Time and workload management? Again, they did the job required, no matter what it took. My point is that I grew up knowing that everyone worked, they gave everything they had to the job, and that’s just the way it was. I simply didn’t question it.

I realize that there’s a balance in life. But soft skills are something I’ve just taken for granted my entire life. I’ll have to do some serious thinking about how to build those into our instruction. If I can only getĀ students to show up to school on time. Even with our positive incentives and negative consequences, that remains a challenge. Now in my day, my parents never would have tolerated my tardiness. . .maybe I amĀ getting old.

cross posted at LeaderTalk

  1. Kim,

    I agree with you wholeheartedly! This is something that should be taught at home though. Unfortunately, these amoung other skills, have been delegated to the schools and teachers. My husband and I both were raised as you were and we raised our children that way. These skills should be taught and reinforced at home first, then at school.

  2. I’m intrigued that I read this post after having just spent 2 hours with a local industry management team. They requested the visit out of their frustration of not getting qualified young adults to apply for positions and feel that they have done the district a disservice and vice versa by not connecting with each other. But by “qualified” they refered to skills including punctuality, appropriate dress, bringing a pen to the interview, being able to express one’s
    self-respect and ambition through a futuristic perspective….sounds like soft skills to me. They specifically stated that the manufacturing skills can be taught on the job. They’re facing a significant turn-over in the next few years as a result of their aging workforce. They’re looking for young adults who will work hard, take pride in what they do, contribute to the work team, and think freely and creatively. And they are asking the school to help.

  3. Kim
    I really liked what you had to say about soft skills. Great idea to use this more in school, like greater rewards for being on time. I have used this for awhile now, “rewarding the kids for coming early or on time,as well as getting their assignments done in a timely fashion. You’re not getting old, just fortunate enough to be raised by solid parenting. My dad always said if you’re not 10 minutes early, then you’re late!!”he was raising 9 kids alone”! I was raised the same way you were with that, and to be honest, I like the way it feels when someone respects me enough to never keep me waiting. It’s just another form of respect, “a lost art in some cases.” Keep up the great work you do at school for the kids, and all you teach them!!

  4. I don’t think that the soft skills discussion is necessarily a question of generation. I think it is a question of character. Honestly, I see where as educators it is important that you model the “soft skills” for students, but in the end isn’t it true that there will always be those who have those soft skills and succeed in life and in the work place?

  5. Hoorah! These are life learning skills that we, the teacher, must model in order to have students follow these skills! This needs to carry over into class assignments as well! This is HUUUUGE!

  6. These skills can be the differentiation between a job offer, a promotion, an excllent performance rating – or not.

  7. If you’re old, then I’m right there with you. I’m the person who still can’t take a nap in the afternoon without a wave of guilt spreading over me.

    My father was a welder by trade, and on the weekend he worked our 80 acre farm, where we had a few animals, and most raised hay to sell, which we all worked to help harvest. I don’t even know all that he would do outside, and even in the winter, but he was always working on something. I remember during the summer, when I was home to watch the one soap opera that I was addicted to, always watching to see if my father was coming up from the barn. I would have the vacuum cleaner plugged in and ready, and if I saw him coming, off went the TV and I was cleaning. There was no idle time. Ever.

    So, how do we balance between being a place were students want to come so that they don’t drop out, but being strict on what we see as essential skills to hold down a job? It isn’t just in the home, it seems to be something that is expected and tolerated by our society, and our only response is “kids these days”. When I visit the restaurant that I used to supervise, and see employees texting on their phones, instead of waiting on customers, I know that things have changed.

  8. These skills are vital. Our students need these just to survive. I think this is lacking in many people, young and not so young. As educators we need to find ways to instill this type of ethic in our students. We know some are not seeing this modeled at home by thier parents. At my school, we are considering spending much more time on character education this year. I think it is a start.

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