Soft Skills Research

Across professional fields, employers agree soft skills are increasingly important to employee mobility and success in the workforce. Yet most academic and career training programs focus on technical skills and fail to incorporate essential soft skills, which can limit a student's ability to enter the workforce and be successful on the job.

Why soft skills?
The data supports ECMC Foundation's strong advocacy for integrating soft skills into today's traditional and technical education curriculums. The soft skills conversation has been relevant for decades. In 1918, a study of 1,500 engineers stated personal qualities are the most important factors in determining probable success or failure ...Read more >

Why soft skills?
The data supports ECMC Foundation’s strong advocacy for integrating soft skills into today’s traditional and technical education curriculums. The soft skills conversation has been relevant for decades. In 1918, a study of 1,500 engineers stated personal qualities are the most important factors in determining probable success or failure in engineering seven times more than knowledge of engineering science and the technique of practice. Today, these skills are more important than ever. According to a study by David Deming, since 1980, jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater relative growth throughout the wage distribution.

A 2012 study of 225 companies concluded employers are looking for five main skills, all classified as soft skills: communication (98%), positive attitude (97%), adaptable to change (92%), teamwork (92%) and goal-oriented behaviors (88%). A European study interviewing both graduate business students and employers concluded business schools across Europe need to equip business graduates with more than hard business-focused skills and competencies to be employable. In addition, 92% of senior executives in the U.S. acknowledge there is a serious gap in workforce skills, according to the State of the Economy and Employment Survey from Adecco Staffing US. Yet, for all the traditional talk about a skills gap in technical and computer skills, 44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.

The job market is increasingly competitive and employees with soft skills have an easier time getting and keeping a job. It is also soft skills that account for most upward mobility, as hard skills alone are not enough to earn a promotion—employers prefer to promote staff with superior soft skills. To rectify the deficiency in soft skills, educators have a responsibility to embed soft skills training into hard skills courses. According to an in-depth survey on the 21st century workforce, applied soft skills rank as the most in-demand skills across employer sectors, but they are also the least developed skills among incoming employees, and get the least attention from educators within K-12 and higher education systems.

Close >

What makes a successful soft skills program?
Through researching best practices in soft skills education, ECMC Foundation has found that programs with one or more of the following components result in positive outcomes for soft skills competency and professional success...Read more >

What makes a successful soft skills program?
Through researching best practices in soft skills education, ECMC Foundation has found that programs with one or more of the following components result in positive outcomes for soft skills competency and professional success.

  • Cohort Model—Students start a class or program as a cohort, which provides peer support, peer mentorship and accountability, and results in higher retention.
  • Coaching/Advising/Mentoring—Students tend to learn and succeed at a better rate with programs that include some aspect of a mentor, advisor, and/or coach who knows students well enough to help them navigate their career options and be adequately prepared for the workplace.
  • Online Component—In today’s fast-growing technology world, an online component reaches more students and engages new generations.
  • Work-Based Model—Internships or externships provide students with a "safe" environment to explore and learn the soft skills needed to succeed in their future careers.
  • Personal Development—Self-awareness and self-reflection are foundational to all soft skills and professional growth. There are resources and programs that incorporate topics such as stress management, emotional intelligence and a growth mindset.

Close >

What else could be considered "soft skills?"
Soft skills is a trending topic among educators and employers, yet they use a variety of terms to refer to the same attributes. The following list includes some of the other terms being used to refer to soft skills...Read more >

What else could be considered "soft skills?"
Soft skills is a trending topic among educators and employers, yet they use a variety of terms to refer to the same attributes. The following list includes some of the other terms being used to refer to soft skills.

  • 21st century skills
  • Applied skills
  • Career/job readiness
  • Deeper learning
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Employability skills
  • Empowerment skills
  • Life skills
  • Nonacademic skills
  • Noncognitive skills
  • Nontangible skills
  • Power skills
  • Professional (Pro) skills
  • Social and emotional learning (SEL)

Close >

In support of the education community’s incorporation of soft skills into their curriculum and instruction, ECMC Foundation has invested efforts to create a digital library of soft skills resources.

Access the Soft Skills Resource Library >