Key “Soft Skills” that Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus across Fields

Author(s): Lippman, Laura H.; Ryber, Renee; Carney, Rachel; and Moore, Kristin A.

Organizational Author(s): Child Trends

Funding Source: Funding source not identified

Resource Availability: Publicly available

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Combines a review of existing research and input from stakeholders such as employers and workforce professionals to identify the soft skills critical to workforce success for youth ages 15-29; also provides recommendations for future research that may enhance stakeholders’ understanding of the role soft skills play in workforce success in order to improve workforce development programs. A key workforce outcome examined in this paper is success in entrepreneurship/Gig Shared Economy.


“’Soft skills’ are centrally important for human capital development and workforce success. A growing evidence base shows that these qualities rival academic or technical skills in their ability to predict employment and earnings, among other outcomes... As the workplace has modernized around the world, the demand for such skills has increased over the past 20 years….Unfortunately, there is not a clear consensus about which soft skills are most critical for workforce success” (p.4).

“This white paper helps bring clarity to the field by recommending a research-based set of key soft skills that increase the chance that youth ages 15–29 will be successful in the workforce. These recommendations emerge from a multi-faceted study that includes an extensive review of research as well as broad stakeholder input. The authors of this report reviewed more than 380 resources from around the world, including rigorous empirical studies, employer studies, and findings of international consensus projects. These resources examine the relationship between soft skills and key workforce outcomes, including employment, performance on the job, wages, and entrepreneurial success. In addition to the literature review, stakeholders, including researchers, youth workforce program implementers, employers, and youth themselves provide input on the importance of these skills based on their unique experiences. After all of the evidence was gathered, a set of criteria were used to arrive at the list of recommended skills. The criteria used include: the quantity, breadth and quality of research support, the contextual diversity of the skill (including formal and informal employment across sectors and regions), whether the skill is malleable (i.e., changeable or teachable among youth ages 15–29), and the developmental appropriateness of each skill” (p.4).

The authors define soft skills as “…a broad set of skills, competencies, behaviors, attitudes, and personal qualities that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals. These skills are broadly applicable and complement other skills such as technical, vocational, and academic skills” (p.4).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The authors identify the following soft skills as critical for youth workforce success:

Social skills: “This ability includes respecting others, using context appropriate behavior, and resolving conflict…. They predict all four types of workforce outcomes (employment, performance, income/wages, and entrepreneurial success), are sought by employers, and are seen as critically important by experts in the field” (p.5).
Communication skills: “Communication skills refer to the specific types of communication used in the workplace, and include oral, written, non-verbal, and listening skills. Strong general communication skills contribute to the development of other soft skills, like social skills” (p.5).
Higher-order thinking: “At a basic level, this includes an ability to identify an issue and take in information from multiple sources to evaluate options in order to reach a reasonable conclusion. Higher-order thinking… is critical for all four workforce outcomes in all regions of the world” (p.5).
“Self-control refers to one’s ability to delay gratification, control impulses, direct and focus attention, manage emotions, and regulate behaviors. Self-control…enables successful decision-making, resolution of conflict, and coherent communication” (p.6).
“A positive self-concept includes self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-awareness and beliefs, as well as self-esteem and a sense of well-being and pride…. It is related to success across all four workforce outcomes and is especially supported in youth-specific literature” (p.6).

The authors also offer suggestions for future research. These include:

“1) How soft skills lead to workforce outcomes (understanding the causal mechanisms);
2) How soft skills, independently and together, relate to academic and technical skills, and how they might be integrated into general and technical education;
3) How individual factors such as gender and socioeconomic status, and contextual factors such as industry and job sector, culture, regional differences, and the presence of conflict, all influence the importance of specific soft skills for workforce success;
4) How soft skills can be improved specifically among youth and young adults, and developed across earlier life stages; and
5) How soft skills can be measured using common definitions and scales, and included along with workforce outcomes in longitudinal studies and program evaluations for youth across cultures, genders, and regions of the world…” (p.6-7).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

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Workforce System Strategies Content Information

Content Type: Resource
Target Populations: Youth customers - All

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Views: 653
Publication Date: 2015
Posted: 2/9/2018 6:05 PM
Posted In: Workforce System Strategies
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