Today ‘soft skills‘ is generally understood as all human and relational skills (as opposed to hard skills, i.e. strong, objective and technical skills). This means all the essential qualities, all the dimensions of interpersonal skills which make the person in the workplace more than a machine. And which the French education system – at universities and big schools – has for a long time considered negligible quantities, or at best inherent qualities.
Whether it is about training doctors, lawyers, teachers, managers or engineers, it is primarily subjects, techniques, processes, expertise and disciplines that are taught. There is so little focus on how it works in real life, in relation to others and the world around them.
In the past, a young manager would have often had more need to learn how to lead a meeting, negotiate a conflict, recruit an employee or write a summary than to learn at school how to master specialised consolidation techniques, financial equations and other theoretical matrices. A young teacher would have had so much more need to learn how to deal with a turbulent class, lay down their authority or get their pupils’ interest than to master complex equations.
In the future, this will be even more true. This is because ‘soft’ skills are the only ones that will not be ‘Uberised’ or ‘automated’. There is a danger that other skills will be replaced by algorithm models and therefore become redundant amid increasing technology. If cars are driving themselves, what is the point in mastering driving techniques, even if they are at an advanced level? However, the questions of where you are going, who with, why… and how to make them want to go will not be answered by automation.
All the more in a world where the previous generation must work alongside the new generation despite their obvious differences. The young generation values these interpersonal skills which they believe are essential and which they were not taught at school. However, it is the older generation who are more likely to possess them due to experience and maturity. Integrating young people and supporting them at work is no longer about teaching them a technique – especially as the old techniques are increasingly becoming obsolete and they often master the new ones better than their elders – but more about helping them learn how to behave.
Whether it is about making one’s own position more durable or getting (very) different generations to work together, identifying a manager with potential, recruiting a young talent or encouraging agility and the digital transformation, the issue of identifying and developing ‘soft’ skills becomes a key issue. The technical expert with proven skills is actually in a way already a figure of the past, a relatively marginal asset at best and constantly having to learn new things. On the other hand, the project manager, the leader, the facilitator, the mediator, the negotiator, the communicator, the entrepreneur should be developed in each of us so we can be better recognised and better trained.
The world of tomorrow will be soft… or will not be. More open, more flexible, more feminine, more cooperative, more collaborative. More civilised. More mobile. More interesting.
Why not just enjoy it? And prepare for it. Together of course!