Beyond the Muddle: What are Soft Skills or Workplace Competencies?

A significant activity in Workforce Connection has been to carry out research and build consensus around the types of soft skills and character traits that are most relevant for positive youth development and for success for employability or career/livelihood success. There is widespread agreement among employers, international donors and youth development practitioners that “soft” skills (e.g. communications, teamwork, and problem-solving), are important for successful transition into adulthood and for success in the workplace. In addition, research carried out in the US has highlighted the importance of non-cognitive skills or character traits such as conscientiousness, self-regulation and perseverance on long-term success in education and in wages. Many of these non-cognitive skills and traits remain malleable into adolescence and beyond, and can be more easily improved than cognitive skills.

However, agreement is lacking around the definitions of and terminology for these skills, and more importantly, which skills are the most important for work readiness and other positive youth development outcomes, particularly in developing country contexts. This lack of consensus and the lack of assessment frameworks and tools to measure the development of those skills across different international contexts are obstacles to the field of youth workforce development.

To address this gap, Workforce Connections has partnered with ChildTrends, for their expertise in assessment and youth development to carry out a rigorous review of research relating to soft skills to identify and define the key skills that are considered the most important for success in work and other aspects of foundational youth development. During and following the review, has held a series of meetings with key stakeholder groups – including youth participants – to vet, prioritize, and build consensus around the key soft and non-cognitive skills that are identified. At the Making Cent’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, they presented their research and findings to date.


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  • published this page in Multimedia 2014-11-20 14:40:47 -0500