Author of book on soft skills shares thoughts

09.11.20 11:17 AM By Joshua Morby

The following post was shared to us from Bob Graham, host of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast

The preparations we make for students and others to become productive workers in the U.S. are flawed.

Employers repeatedly clamor for employees with better soft skills. Yet those training to become employees cannot find enough opportunities to develop these critical skills, and in the rare cases when they do, they don’t know how to talk about them.

This huge flaw, which ultimately hurts the employee, the employer and our whole economy, can be traced to our educational emphasis on technical skills over soft skills. Hiring staff perpetuate this flaw by focusing almost exclusively on applicants’ education and work experience, rather than on their ability to address complex situations. When was the last time you heard someone in an interview being asked to solve a problem like how many basketballs would fit in this room? (Google and a minority of other employers ask applicants to explain their logic in arriving at an answer as a means of determining their ability to deal with ambiguity, complexity and other hallmarks of almost every workplace today.

Ask almost any employer what they most need from new employees and you will hear the same things: Better communication skills, problem solving, teamwork. These are soft skills.

I used to teach engineering students at a major university. The students were brilliant, far smarter than I could ever hope to be. But when it came to their ability to interact with each other, employers and others, they struggled. They deflected, they avoided, they did everything in their power to escape situations requiring them to use their underdeveloped people skills.

These students cannot be faulted. They were victims of a system that failed them. We don’t put enough effort into teaching the many soft skills that are required at different times in the workplace. In our book, The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success, my co-author, Dr. Tobin Porterfield, and I identified a whopping 55 soft skills that play a role in successful workplaces. These soft skills range from patience and time management, to collaboration and delegation, managing people and even sharing a vision.

Imagine a workplace without these and the other 49 soft skills in play. Even the most skilled technicians cannot achieve results if they cannot successfully interact with others, both on-site and increasingly remotely.

Technical skills like formulas, theories and history are easier to teach. You either know them or you don’t. A simple objective test can tell you in seconds.

Teaching soft skills, as I have done at two universities, requires allowing students to fail so they can learn from their mistakes. Most teachers and most academic environments don’t support this fail-to-succeed approach.

Two other factors further complicate matters. Many programs think group work is the antidote to underdeveloped soft skills, which it is not. And even when students receive opportunities to cultivate and practice their soft skills, they rarely receive instruction on how to emphasize those skills in discussions with potential employers.

The current situation would be laughable if it didn’t hurt everyone involved so much. The dearth of soft sills training stunts creativity and innovation, and it haunts some employees who lose out to others with better soft skills or a greater ability to explain these valuable skills.


Bob Graham is CEO of Breakthrough Solutions, which coaches, trains and speaks on how to unleash the power of soft skills. You can reach him at