Local businesses are bemoaning the lack of skilled workers. While this sometimes means they can’t find a person with specific technical or “hard skills” (like the ability to speak a foreign language, use Microsoft Office, or operate a piece of equipment), businesses usually mean they can’t find people with soft skills.

Hard skills. Soft skills. What are they? Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured: a CDL license, a forklift certification, the ability to use QuickBooks or Photoshop. These skills are gained through education (like a trade school or college) or a specific training (apprenticeship, applied science degree, etc.) Hard skills give a job seeker a competitive edge. Hard skills help someone get the job interview.

So what are “soft skills?” Simply put, soft skills are self-management or people skills. Soft skills demonstrate to an employer how you will (or will not) fit within an organization. Soft skills get people the job — and help them retain it.

Soft skills are the things we usually learn as young people, typically in school: listening, making eye contact, arriving on time, the ability to communicate, and how to get along with others.

Think back: As a student, we learn that classes start when the bell rings — time management. A teacher controls a classroom, a coach oversees activities on the court or field, and if you get in trouble with either, you are sent to the principal — chain of command. In sports, you shake hands with the opposing team after a competition; you are told to (and hopefully) say “please” and “thank you”; you line up for lunch and don’t dare cut in front of someone — basic etiquette.

We follow dress codes, learn to submit assignments by a due date, and check in at the office when tardy or out sick — following policies and procedures and more time management. All these “soft skills” ultimately develop our collective work ethic.

Local employers are looking for people with soft skills. Someone might have a four-year degree, but that doesn’t matter if they don’t show up to work on time or if they call in sick every Monday. I’ve heard many more than one business person say, “Send me someone with the right attitude, I’ll train the rest.” Employers are asking for “someone who wants to work.” Businesses tell us “employees are calling out sick, not calling out at all, or generally just having a bad attitude about work.”

To anyone looking for a job, businesses want you ... but they want you to put down your cellphone and show your human side. They want you to positively interact with the people around you. Show up Monday through Friday and engage. They have machines that can manufacture goods; they need real people who can work together, talk in person, and problem-solve to figure out why the machine isn’t working properly.

Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.