Are Soft Skills Really Just as Important as Technical Skills?

At every point in your career, you will work with someone else. From communicating with your supervisor, managing your employees, working in a team with your co-workers, or sharing your product with potential customers, most jobs are not done solo. But if you know the technical side of what you do, those other “soft” skills shouldn’t matter as long as you are doing your job well, right?

Wrong. The soft skills, more accurately called professional competencies – communication, teamwork, collaboration, work ethic, and positive attitude, just to name a few, are just as important and valuable to your career as knowing how to do the job. And teaching these skills should start way before an employee enters the workforce.

Professional skills are important for intellectual property licensing professionals for many reasons. As a rapidly growing field, you need to stand out. Developing soft skills is what will help you do just that.

Ohio Means Jobs, the state of Ohio’s effort to match employees with available jobs and provide incentives to educators to train students for those jobs, created an OhioMeansJobs-Seal with professional pillars deemed necessary for all high school graduates. Focusing on several different fields and looking at the needs of employers, they came up with a list of key professional skills.  This list includes input from business and industry owners and is based on their experience. You can read the full story here:

Achieving the Job Readiness Seal means the graduate would be able to show competency in the following areas to be ready for the working world:

Drug Free – The student commits to being drug free.

Reliability – The student has integrity and responsibility in professional settings.

Work Ethic – The student has effective work habits, personal accountability and a determination to succeed.

Punctuality – The student arrives to commitments on time and ready to contribute.

Discipline – The student abides by guidelines, demonstrates self-control and stays on task.

Teamwork/Collaboration – The student builds collaborative relationships with others and can work as part of a team.

Professionalism – The student demonstrates honesty. He or she dresses and acts appropriately and responsibly. He or she learns from mistakes.

Learning Agility – The student desires to continuously learn new information and skills.

Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving – The student exercises strong decision-making skills, analyzes issues effectively and thinks creatively to overcome problems.

Leadership – The student leverages the strengths of others to achieve common goals. He or she coaches and motivates peers and can prioritize and delegate work.

Creativity/Innovation – The student is original and inventive. He or she communicates new ideas to others, drawing on knowledge from different fields to find solutions.

Oral and Written Communications – The student articulates thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms.

Digital Technology – The student has an understanding of emerging technology and leverages technology to solve problems, complete tasks and accomplish goals.

Global/Intercultural Fluency – The student values, respects and learns from diverse groups of people.

Career Management – The student is a self-advocate. He or she articulates strengths, knowledge and experiences relevant to success in a job or postsecondary education.

Based on the OhioMeansJobs competencies, there are ways to incorporate teaching these essential skills in the classroom, and it is important for employers to know what educators can be doing to help their students prepare for the working world:

Drug-Free: Educators need to inform their students on the statistics and negative consequences of not being drug-free. Almost every employer conducts a drug screening before they will hire someone, and if you fail the drug test you are automatically out of the running. In 2017, 4.2% of employees failed a drug test ( Smoking, though not an illegal drug, is also seen as a problem for employers because of loss of productivity among their smoking employees versus non-smoking employees. According to a study on the Effect of Smoking on Productivity Loss,

“Current smokers missed more days of work and experienced more unproductive time at work compared with former smokers and nonsmokers. The average annual cost for lost productivity for nonsmokers was 2,623 dollars/year compared with 3246 dollars/year for former smokers and 4430 dollars/year for current smokers. More than half the costs were due to unproductive time at work.” Read more about smoking and productivity at By just sharing this information, students know these statistics, and they can make a decision for themselves to lead a drug-free life.

Reliability, Work Ethic, & Punctuality: The first step is for educators to model the desired behavior – be reliable, have a strong work ethic, and start your classes on time. If students see their educators behaving a certain way, they will follow suit. Are there consequences in your classroom for being late to class, or turning work in late? Set aside time to address problems with work ethic or reliability with your students, and stress the importance of these attributes in the working world.

Teamwork & Collaboration: In almost every field of work, your students will be working within a team, or with their supervisor, or alongside someone else at some point. Group projects in school are a great way to facilitate teamwork and collaboration. Have students pick their own role within the team, and settle disputes as a team instead of coming to you if a problem arises. Offer to help coach them through any issues, but ultimately, make it up to them to find a solution.

Learning Agility: Learning agility and the desire to learn new skills and constantly improve is not always an innate skill.  Students look up to you as the expert, so you should stress the importance of constantly learning, and how your field is constantly changing and you are excited to learn something new all the time. This will instill that same value in your students.

Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving: Don’t always make decisions for your students. Let them come up with new projects and lead their own learning. Create lesson plans that don’t have black and white answers; the “gray” areas are where the beauty happens and the critical thinking and problem solving skills will flourish.

Leadership: Create a leadership program within your classroom with a new class leader every week.  They will be a resource for other students, set up stations and prep the room for the day, and be the person to solve any small issues that might arise (unless they are big problems that need escalated to a teacher, of course).

Creativity/Innovation: New models of teaching, such as problem based and project based assignments promote creativity and innovation.  Educators can present students with a challenge or ask them to choose a project based on something they are familiar with or passionate about. The scope of the challenge can be simple or complex, the point is to allow students the creative freedom to explore and test solutions.

Strong Oral and Written Communications: Have students give presentations, as a group and on their own. Make sure they are still getting essential writing skills within their career-tech program. Being able to effectively communicate is a top skill every worker needs.

Digital Technology: Technology is getting more advanced, and students need to stay up on trends. You may find they actually know more than you do, so making sure you yourself are staying on top of new trends is important. There are online platforms now where students can collaborate on projects in real time and coding courses to create websites and Apps. Are you giving your students opportunities to explore these latest technologies, and make their work more efficient?

Global/Intercultural Fluency: Understanding others’ cultures is an essential skill in our global economy. Students need the opportunity to work with people outside of their own race to understand and empathize with others. Create opportunities for travel, if your budget or school allows, to do service projects in other countries or to explore how other countries with your same career-tech program may teach it differently.

Career Management: Put students in charge of their career. Give them resources on how to create a resume, job interviewing tips, and offer to give mock interviews to students so you can help them improve on any skills. Help them come up with a career projection plan. What are their short term and long term goals? Where do they see themselves at the peak of their career, and what are the steps to getting there?

While the Ohio Means Jobs competency list is a good starting point, each field will have variations, and it is important to remember that students have chosen their desired educational path for personal reasons. Technical skills are foundational, while the critical reasoning, emotional intelligence, and other professional skills are what will make students stand out in their field. When students are given opportunities to take on leadership roles, provide peer feedback, and take online assessments to discover their strengths, they will grow as individuals and be better workers.

We live in a global society with a changing work environment. Students cannot get by with just the knowledge of the job itself. We need our student graduates to be prepared not just with the technical skills needed for the job, but the essential professional skills that will make them a star employee.

It is important to know that Ohio is committed to student success and recognizes these skills as a valuable part of job training. But technology transfer is a global field, and not every new employee will come in with these skills. Creating opportunities for your employees to grow and build their professional skills is an important part of your company, and will ultimately lead to higher employee success.

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