Should Schools Teach Social Skills?

Should Schools Teach Social Skills?

In recent years, soft skills like communication and critical thinking have become an increasingly important differentiator of talent, and employers have reported having a hard time finding employees with soft skills to round out their set of hard skills. As a greater share of work is automated, these soft skills may become even more important if social interactions indeed turn out to be the hardest human tasks for robots to learn. With all that in mind, Dan Kopf argues at Quartz that the most important job skill for the future generation of employees isn’t being taught in US schools:

US students are judged by how well they score on math, reading and science tests. US educators are assessed by their student’s improvement on those tests. The US labor market, however, is increasingly placing a premium on pleasant personalities. Schools that focus narrowly on cognitive skills without teaching social skills may be overlooking a key component to workplace success.

Research from the Harvard Economist David Deming shows that, since 1980, the proportion of jobs calling for social skill-related tasks rose much faster (pdf) than jobs calling for basic math and reading. In other words, as the labor market has changed, a lot more Americans are finding themselves working at places like Starbucks coffee shops than at Ford manufacturing plants. Deming estimates that, from 1980 to 2012, the proportion of jobs that called for math tasks increased by 5% while routine tasks (repetitive assignments that don’t require analysis) declined by 10%. Meanwhile, jobs calling for social tasks and service tasks increased by over 15%.