Soft Skills Key to Success for Youth Worldwide

June 17, 2015

BETHESDA, Md.—A new report released today by Child Trends recommends five key skills found by researchers to increase the likelihood that youth (ages 15 to 29) will get a job, keep a job, perform well, earn more, or achieve entrepreneurial success. Soft skills are behaviors, attitudes, and personal qualities that enable people to effectively navigate their environment and complement technical, vocational, and academic skills.

The report, Key “Soft Skills” that Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus across Fields, details the findings from more than 380 international resources. Report authors support the inclusion of these skills in programs designed to train youth for employment. According to data from the World Bank, jobless rates remain high for young people ages 15 to 24 in many parts of the world, including South Africa (53.6 percent) and Jamaica (35.5 percent) compared with 15.8 percent in the United States. Employers are demanding youth with soft skills, and they report that many applicants lack the soft skills to fill available jobs.

Child Trends studied the relationship between soft skills and four workforce outcomes: getting a job or being employed, performance on the job, wages, and entrepreneurial success, and identified the following five most important skills that help youth and young adults to be successful in the workplace:

  • social skills, or the ability of youth to get along with others;
  • communication skills, including oral, written, non-verbal, and listening skills;
  • higher-order thinking, consisting of problem solving, critical thinking and decision making;
  • self-control, the ability to delay gratification, control impulses, direct and focus attention, manage emotions, and regulate behaviors; and
  • a positive self-concept, which includes self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-awareness, as well as a sense of well-being and pride.

“Youth who are competent in these soft skills are more likely to be effective in their job searches and interviews and thus are more likely to be hired, and to perform better on the job, leading to promotion and higher wages” said Child Trends Senior Program Area Director Laura Lippman, and the report’s lead author.

Child Trends produced the report under a grant from the Workforce Connections project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by the nonprofit human development organization FHI 360.  Workforce Connections promotes evidence-based learning and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, with the goal of improving the capacity of USAID and its industry partners to deliver quality workforce development programming.

The report lists the top ten skills for both the general, adult population as well as youth populations for each outcome. It describes the strength and breadth of the evidence, and whether they are validated across regions and sectors, as well as across stakeholder groups, and whether there is evidence that the skills can be improved during adolescence and young adulthood.

The report also suggests implications for youth workforce development and training programs. It provides common terminology necessary to make major strides in building consensus across fields on the best bets for investment in youth development and workforce training programs.


About Child Trends

Child Trends, based in Bethesda, Md., is a mission-driven, independent organization that conducts rigorous research and evaluations and communicates and applies this knowledge to inform policies, programs, and practices to improve the lives of children and youth.

About FHI 360

FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. The staff includes experts in health, education, nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, gender, youth, research, technology, communication and social marketing — creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today’s interrelated development challenges. FHI 360 serves more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories.