Soft skills – sometimes referred to as ‘transferable skills’ – are essential in today’s labour market and society. Soft skills are the general set of skills that help us to communicate with others, make effective and logical decisions, organise ourselves to complete required tasks, and have the resilience and flexibility to deal with set-backs.
Government has acknowledged these skills are important, the National Careers Service highlights the importance of demonstrating key soft skills and suggest several ways they can be developed.
How is it done now?
Despite the importance of soft skills, the most common ways to measure them haven’t changed over the past few decades. Research by LinkedIn found that most talent professionals assess soft skills by picking up on social cues in interviews. The problem is that these perceptions are often unconsciously biased.
AQi’s own research found that students also want more opportunities to demonstrate their broader skills, but may not be given the opportunity to do so in existing qualifications. We found that three fifths (61%) of students agreed with the statement “I wish my GCSEs had assessed me in skills like teamwork or communication rather than just academic subjects.”
There is a key question here for policymakers - how should someone prove that they have soft skills?
How do you prove you have soft skills?
Teachers and schools work tirelessly to ensure their students are prepared for all manner of eventualities: exams, essays, and the general struggles of adolescence. In schools up and down the country, teachers can and do help students develop their problem-solving, resilience and communication skills.
To support teachers, numerous organisations provide training packages to help deliver soft skills lessons. For example, LifeSkills by Barclays provides free, curriculum-led resources for teachers and schools to help teach key skills to students. The online learning platform Coursera returns 786 results when searching for ‘Soft Skills,’ so there is clearly demand. However, these may not be appropriate for all students and they do not provide accredited qualifications. It is debateable how much weight an employer would give to a really good classroom presentation, or group project.
This begs the question, is there a need for additional qualifications? Currently, Functional Skills Qualifications only include Maths, English and ICT components and do not touch on softer skills. In Northern Ireland, by contrast, it is possible to take Wider Key Skills qualifications up to Level 3. The Wider Key Skills qualifications aim to develop and recognise key skills and apply them in different contexts. They are aimed at everyone, from school pupils to industry leaders, and each Wider Key Skill is worth the equivalent of 6 UCAS points for university entry.
A standalone qualification, however, is not the only way to achieve this. The existing framework of GCSEs and Functional Skills Qualifications could be reformed to include assessment of ‘soft skills’ such as communication, team work, problem-solving and creativity.
There are many unanswered questions about soft skills. Policymakers should consider how best to organise themselves and use their problem-solving skills to focus on this problem, and communicate clearly what can be done.