If your children spend more time with screens than humans, you may have concern for their future career success. And as much as technology and automation continue to dominate the workplace, new research is arguing that career success remains dependent on interpersonal skills (soft skills) as much as cognitive technical skills.

David Deming’s “The Value of Soft Skills in the Labor Market” (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2017) explains that these skills are “important drivers of success in school and in adult life.” Soft skills, the generic interpersonal or people skills, include caring, cooperating, anticipating, persisting and emotional management. These skills are called “non-cognitive” because they are not measured by achievement or IQ tests.

Deming, a research associate on the Harvard faculty, says that the demands of the job market far exceed college preparation in teamwork, collaboration and oral and written communication and that these skills are “hard to find qualities in potential new hires.” Referencing a 2017 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employees, he identifies “ability to work as a team” as the most desired skill of new college graduates. Teamwork was followed by speaking and writing skills, which superseded problem solving and analytical skills.

While cognitive knowledge-based skills are necessary for “good high-paying jobs” in today’s workplace, the value of social skills cannot be understated. “Between 1980 and 2012, social skill-intensive occupations grew by nearly 12 percent.” Deming’s research finds that recently, “social skills are a significantly more important predictor of full-time employment and wages.”

Arguing the importance of social interaction in the workplace and that “there is currently no good machine [or software] substitute,” Deming explains that “our ability to read and react to others is based on tacit knowledge that has evolved over thousands of years.” This process represents skills required in teamwork and defined as “trading tasks,” and is difficult to “reverse engineer.”

In my college classroom setting, I have observed that social interaction skills are more common to female students than male students. Female students add the social glue to teams by generating human interactive questions such as “How’s your day going?” and “How are you feeling?” Research sources have identified these human concern skills as characteristic of the “mommy brain” and evolutionary need to use language to protect themselves and their offspring from physically aggressive males.

Soft skills begin within family interactions and continue development with teams and social interactions. A child who interacts with screens during dinner and social settings not only misses an opportunity to develop social interaction skills, but also continues to develop screen dependency and lack of confidence to interact with people. I am reminded of a recent revealing comment by one of my students, “I would rather text than talk.”

Dr. Joe Giampalmi, an assistant professor at Rowan University’s Department of Writing Arts, has been teaching writing for 52 years. Author of five books and dozens of educational articles for national magazines, he has been writing this semi-monthly column since 1985 and has published more than 600 columns. Some past columns are available at DelcoNewsNetwork.com. Giampalmi regularly presents writing workshops for schools and businesses. Please address questions and comments to Giampalmi@Rowan.edu.

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