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Measuring soft skills: concepts, methods and results

Wed, April 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront D

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Education for Sustainability implies the cultivation of a broad set of skills and competencies required for today’s youth to lead productive and successful lives. Evidence across fields and disciplines highlights the importance of “soft” skills, sometimes referred to as “life skills” or “21 century skills” to long-term education, employment, health, and violence prevention outcomes (Deming 2015; Almlund et al., 2011; Heckman et al., 2006; Carneiro et al. 2007). These skills include self-efficacy or positive self concept, higher-order thinking skills, social and communication skills, and a range of nontechnical “social-emotional learning” skills, including grit and resilience. Across a range of fields, from early childhood education and development, to education and workforce transition, to education in crisis and conflict, these “noncognitive skills” are increasingly drawing the attention of researchers and practitioners alike. Investments in school-based, out-of-school, and workplace-based programs and activities that promote developing soft skills among different groups of adolescents and young adults have grown significantly worldwide.

This growth in soft skills-focused interventions has resulted in an urgent need for: 1) definitions and operationalizations of “soft skills” at different stages and contexts; 2) understandings of how soft skills develop, and the extent to which they can be fostered in controlled, academic or programmatic/ technical environments; 3) interventions that explicitly target the development of soft skills, and a body of evidence around them; 4) validated metrics for measuring soft skills with a sufficient degree of precision as to capture change over time.

This panel brings together the perspectives of organizations directly engaged in programs for young people around the world, seeking to help them foster crucial soft skills, and the recent experience of researchers that seek to develop appropriate metrics for soft skills validated in low-resource, Southern contexts. The panel focuses on both the conceptual and technical aspects of measuring soft skills, and provides empirical examples of the process, analytical findings, lessons learned, and an agenda going forward for this important line of inquiry.

In addition, a presentation of new USAID Guidance on Measuring Skills provides an opportunity to step back from the field-level studies and implementation, and examine what a cross-national lens, with context-independent indicators of success in building soft skills may look like.

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