Soft skills is a sociological term relating to a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterise relationships with other people.
article by Diane Shawe M.Ed
Soft skills complement hard skills (part of a person’s IQ), which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.
So why does contemporary society place great value on standardised achievement tests to sift and sort people, to evaluate schools, and to assess the performance of nations?
Despite the widespread use of standardised achievement tests, the traits that they measure are not well-understood. Cognitive ability like IQ the important skills that achievement tests miss or mismeasure, are now being recognised as the skills that also matter in life.
Achievement tests miss, or more accurately, do not adequately capture, soft skills— personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other domains.
The larger message is that soft skills predict success in life, that they produce that success, and that programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies.
Many social scientists—even many psychologists— continue to use IQ tests, standardised achievement tests, and grades. Even though scores on IQ tests, standardised achievement tests, and grades are positively correlated with each other, recent literature shows that they measure different skills and depend on different facets of cognitive ability. Recent research also shows that all three measures are associated with personality, but to different degrees across various cognitive measures.
Standardised achievement tests were designed to capture “general knowledge” produced in schools and through life experiences. Such knowledge is thought to be relevant to success inside and outside of the classroom. However, achievement tests are often validated using other standardised achievement tests or other measures of cognitive ability—surely a circular practice.
Success in life depends on personality traits that are not well captured by measures of cognition. Conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, and curiosity matter. While economist up until now have largely ignored these traits, personality psychologists have studied them over the last century. They have constructed measures of them and provide evidence that these traits predict meaningful life outcomes.
Many scholars—inside and outside of psychology—have questioned the existence of stable personality traits, arguing that constraints and incentives in situations almost entirely on the magnitudes of measurement error on a variety of economic measures, see Bound et al. (2001).
These authors report that at most 15–30% of earnings variance is due to measurement error.
Some early studies in economics are Bowles and Gintis (1976), and Bowles et al. (2001). An important study in sociology is Jencks (1979). Work in psychology going back to Terman et al. (1925) shows that personality traits matter (see Murray, 1938; Terman et al., 1947; and the discussion in Gensowski, 2012).
There is no tape measure for perseverance, no caliper for intelligence. All cognitive and personality traits are measured using performance on “tasks,” broadly defined. Different tasks require different traits in different combinations. Some distinguish between measurements of traits and measurements of outcomes, but this distinction is often misleading.
However, traits are not set in stone. They change over the life cycle and can be enhanced by education, parenting, and environment to different degrees at different ages. It is my opinion people try harder when doing achievement tests so you can scores and capture both cognitive and personality traits.