Invest Now or Pay Later
Teaching the soft skills to shape hard workers of the future.
By Kayla DeMuth, Academic Designer
Educators, administrators, communities, and thought leaders alike are opening their eyes to the importance of addressing the whole student by integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) into their classrooms. Research has shown time and time again that SEL interventions help students learn better and achieve greater academic and personal success than without it. “Soft skills” — or interpersonal skills that allow people to successfully communicate, listen, and problem solve in diverse environments — are considered the most sought-after and employable skills across all industries, but practices that teach them are fundamentally lacking in school curriculums today.
The goal of education is to build well-rounded, successful, and active citizens, individuals who can contribute to society and excel in their careers. To do so, we need to focus less on teaching the hard skills, and more on teaching the soft skills, with the help of SEL.
Soft Skills are the Skills Needed for Success
During my own research and learning, I have found that the most compelling arguments that support the teaching of SEL at every level of schooling actually come from our workforce. Just look at the World Economic Forum’s top 10 skills necessary to be the most successful in the workplace:
- Complex Problem Solving
- Critical Thinking
- People Management
- Coordinating with Others
- Emotional Intelligence
- Judgement and Decision Making
- Service Orientation
- Cognitive Flexibility
Almost all of these skills are either directly or tangentially tied to SEL practices. On some level, this list of skills seems almost counter-intuitive. The world is becoming more and more technologically advanced and one might think that the need for interacting with others is becoming less and less necessary.
Today, it seems as though every piece of knowledge can be learned from a device in our hands and more and more tasks are becoming automated; however, there are still plenty of tasks that a machine can’t do — tasks that require human interaction and creativity.
To further this point, a 2017 research study by David Deming, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, found that jobs requiring high levels of interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points between 1980 and 2012, but more math-intensive, less social jobs shrank by 3.3 percentage points in the same period.
Still, Not all Students are Learning these Important Skills
Graduation rates have continued to rise throughout the years and, currently, the national average graduation rate is about 85 percent. Despite this, employers are saying that candidates still lack important soft skills to be successful.
In a Bloomberg study in collaboration with Workday, a survey found that of 100 senior level individuals in business, 40 percent of them indicated that their recruits lacked soft-skills that would help them perform at a high level in a professional environment.
Companies are Closing the Gap
Since students are coming out of school with little-to-no social-emotional training, companies have started to take on this training themselves. Companies like Bank of America, SAP, Google, Facebook, and Johnson & Johnson have programs or trainings in place to teach these soft skills. They are doing these trainings because they have seen that when their employees work together in a trusted and positive environment, great things happen.
I recently came across a Ted Talk by Margaret Heffernan, in which she discussed examples of successful teams within organizations and how it translated into monetary and philanthropic success. She highlights social connectedness as the key to driving productive teams. She discusses a company that synchronized their coffee breaks for all their employees so they would all have time to talk with one another. This allowed people to get to know others from different departments and form relationships with colleagues on a deeper level.
This investment, in turn, increased the company’s profits by $15 million and employee satisfaction went up by 10 percent. Social connectedness is the lifeblood of SEL.
Incorporating “Soft Skill” Lessons into Your Classroom
Ideally, teachers and schools should be integrating soft skill training and honing into their daily activities, but here are some simple ways to help students boost their social and emotional wellness:
- During group work, assign students a job within their own groups. Write clear descriptions of their responsibilities to ensure that every student contributes to their team.
- Teach and model positive self-talk.
- Give students time at the beginning or end of a class to practice mindfulness.
- Have a class set of stress balls to potentially help students manage stress.
- Give students journal prompts surrounding social and emotional skills such as, “How do you relieve stress?” or “How well do you take criticism?”
I couldn’t help but wonder that if students were coming out of school with strong social-emotional skills, how much more productive, creative, innovative, and happy would workplaces be? Instead of needing to “catch everyone up” on practicing empathy, managing conflict, and how to work within a team, the workforce would immediately be focusing on solving the problems that face us, together. In turn, employees would be happier, more engaged, and more successful, which ultimately benefits us all.
Kayla DeMuth has been with McGraw-Hill for one year as an Academic Designer for the middle school science programs. She comes from the high school classroom where she taught physical science and biology. Her time as an educator helped spark a passion in helping students realize their value and become the best versions of themselves. She now takes this passion and applies it to her current role by getting involved in research and training surrounding social emotional learning. Outside her job, she enjoys visiting new coffee shops and hanging out with her husband and ten-month-old daughter.