Skill is the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance. It is the learned power of doing something competently…a developed aptitude or ability (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Philippines. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1987). The possession or absence of skills shows up in people’s behaviors, choices, and work products. We say people are skilled or proficient based on our judgment of the appropriateness of their behaviors and choices and the quality of their work.

Trainers frequently make a distinction between hard and soft skills. What makes a skill hard or soft is the ability to describe it sufficiently so that its presence or absence can be recognized. Hard skills are easier to describe and recognize because they are more likely about how to follow a procedure, for example, wire an electrical outlet. Managers can observe the behaviors and choices, and judge the quality of the outputs, for example, the outlet works. Other skills are harder to observe except in their absence, like listening or being nice. These skills are frequently referred to as “soft.” However, skills become less “soft” the better you can describe the specific desired behaviors and the work conditions under which they are expected to occur.

Soft skills are particularly dependent on the work environment or the context under which they are required. It is easy to get along with people who are like us and who share our views of the world. Limitations in these skills become an issue when we have to work with people who are unlike us and have different objectives. The critical factors to consider when evaluating how well training develops soft skills are 1) the amount of variance or lack of consistency and predictability there is in the workplace, 2) the degree of proficiency required by the work, and 3) the presence of systems to reinforce the desired skill level and enable the organization to recover when the skills are absent. Here are some suggestions on how to evaluate training of soft skills. Find out:
• To what level of proficiency the training is expected to bring learners.
• If the learning objectives match the level of proficiency expected, not more and not less.
• If the training provides a sufficient number of exercises with feedback to achieve the level promised, and if the conditions and standards increase in difficulty to the point they match what happens in the workplace as this is the only way to build proficiency during training. If not, find out if coaching and feedback are available afterwards.
If the required skill level of the job is higher than what training can accomplish due to time or budget constraints, then work with the client to assure additional performance supports are in place on the job to further develop the learners’ proficiency.