Soft Skills: Origin, where it comes from and Concept

Mayuri Content Writer
4 min readSep 10, 2021

Soft skills, also known as common skills, core skills, people skills, or human skills are useful in all aspects of life whether it is personal or professional. Critical thinking, problem-solving, public speaking, teamwork, leadership, professional attitude, work ethic, career management, and intercultural fluency are some examples of soft skills. This is in contrast to hard or technical skills, which are unique to different professions.

When talking about soft skills the first thing that comes to one’s mind is a modern-day corporate context. But the main question here is who and why call them ‘soft’ when these skills are hard to identify and acquire.

So, what is the origin, where do soft skills come from?

Not many people know the history of the term ‘soft skills’. After doing some research, it turns out, Soft Skills may be traced back to the US Military between 1968 and 1972. The military has excelled in training troops on how to use the equipment. But they were discovering that how a group of soldiers was led, had a lot to do with their success. This concerned the soldiers since they had not been trained for it. So they set about developing a mechanism for capturing how this information was obtained.

As we studied, the name Paul G Whitmore appears the most frequently. It was his team that devised the contrast between dealing with something physically hard, such as a machine, and something soft to the touch. Based on that, three criteria were developed to determine if a skill is ‘soft’ or ‘hard’:

  • Interaction level with a machine
  • Specificity of the behavior to be showcased
  • A typical on-the-job circumstance

According to PG Whitmore, “job-related skills involving actions primarily affecting people and paper, e.g., inspecting troops, supervising office personnel, conducting studies, preparing maintenance reports, preparing efficiency reports, designing bridge structures.”

The phrase “soft skills” first appeared in a US Army training handbook in 1972. Dr. Whitmore submitted a paper at the 1972 CONARC Soft Skills Conference aimed at determining how the term “soft skills” is defined in various CONARC schools. Following the creation and administration of a questionnaire, experts devised a new preliminary definition: Soft skills are significant job-related qualities that entail little or no interaction with computers and whose use on the job is very broad.”

They went on to critique the concept’s current status as ambiguous, saying, “In other words, those job tasks about which we know a lot are hard skills, and those about which we know very little are soft skills.” Another quick research by them likewise came to a negative conclusion. Small groups and student-centred learning were mentioned as essential components of the instructional strategy.

Concept of Soft Skills

Soft skills are a collection of useful personality qualities that define one’s connections in a social setting. Social graces, linguistic skills, communication skills, leadership skills, time management, collaboration, cognitive or emotional empathy, and personal habits are examples of soft skills. According to a study of the literature, soft skills are defined as an umbrella word for skills that fall into three major functional categories: people skills, social skills, and personal career characteristics.

The relevance of soft skills stems from the fact that they are not limited to a single sector. These cognitive dispositions are made up of a set of abilities that can be applied to every part of people’s life without needing to be readjusted depending on the scenario. Their ductility enables “people to adapt and behave constructively to deal effectively with the obstacles of their professional and everyday lives.” Soft skills enable people to be adaptable in an ever-changing world.

Soft skills have grown in popularity throughout the years. The more study that is done, the more individuals realize the importance of this notion. This interest is demonstrated by a large number of fund firms and international organizations that are investing in the training and growth of this sector.

Soft skills are now a significant differentiator, a condition for employment and life success in the twenty-first century. According to Nobel laureate James Heckman, “soft skills predict life success that they casually create that achievement and that initiatives that promote soft skills have a significant position in a successful portfolio of public policies.” The importance that companies place on the subject is demonstrated by the fact that soft skills are now as essential as grades or marks when recruiting a new employee.

Hence, we now know that “soft skills” were coined by the US military to contrast with “hard skills,” which entailed dealing with equipment. But they were not attempting to belittle these abilities. They sought to develop a practical method of training and assessing the performance of their troops.

The significance of ‘soft skills’ was recognized. Soft skills are important to succeed in today’s world, even at the individual level. Whether you are a startup or a manager or a budding college-goer, combining hard and soft skills can propel you forward.