New World of Work


Soft skills (also known as noncognitive, employability, or 21st-century skills) are increasingly viewed as essential for favorable outcomes in both education and employment. Yet employers consistently report that these abilities—such as working well with a team, problem-solving, and thriving in diverse work settings—are lacking in their job applicants. In response, community colleges are looking for ways to teach these skills explicitly so that students graduate with recognizable competency not only in academic and career-technical skills, but also in employability skills or soft skills.

In 2012, New World of Work (NWoW), a soft-skills curriculum, was developed to meet that need. Initially rolled out at community colleges across California, the curriculum provides instruction in 10 key competencies using work-relevant content.

NWoW was designed to build competency by having students:

  1. Receive soft-skill instruction through the NWoW curriculum in a semester-long course
  2. Practice and refine soft skills in a concurrent work-based learning experience
  3. Earn assessment-based micro-credentials to signal skill proficiency to future employers

The research team studied the implementation of the intervention in community college settings through a descriptive analysis.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

NWoW was designed to deliver soft-skills training to students while allowing them the opportunity to practice their skills through a meaningful work experience. The intervention has three components that are associated with a set of specific practices, activities, and elements:

  1. Classroom or online instruction covering at least three soft-skill topics in the course of a semester-long class.
  2. A work-based learning experience or other work experience for students that is linked to the skills taught in the NWoW curriculum.
  3. Credentials through a digital badging platform that identifies mastery in each of the soft skills. Students have the opportunity to earn up to 10 digital badges:
  • Adaptability
  • Analysis/solution mindset
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Digital fluency
  • Entrepreneurial mindset
  • Empathy
  • Resilience
  • Self-awareness
  • Social/diversity awareness

The research team studied the implementation of the NWoW program to answer the following research questions:

  • How can the components of NWoW be refined and strengthened to promote their use in the field?
  • How can institutions develop and implement soft-skills instruction in a postsecondary setting?
  • How can psychometric analysis inform assessment design and ensure that soft skills can be more accurately measured?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The NWoW Study launched in July 2017 with a two-year iterative development phase to strengthen and refine all three components of the program. Three California community colleges were selected to be partners in this work: Shasta College, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Folsom Lake College. Drawing on quantitative data as well as extensive interviews and related qualitative research, the research team provided comments and recommendations for improving the program. This iterative improvement process took place through fall 2019.

The research team also used psychometric analysis as a test of each of the program’s 10 soft-skill assessments to produce recommendations on improving the assessments. For the psychometric analysis, the research team ran descriptive statistics and conducted preliminary analyses using item response theory, and examined psychometric properties, such as item difficulty, item-total correlation, total score distributions, total score correlations, Cronbach’s alpha, and likelihood ratio tests. 

The findings from the study’s activities are included in the project’s products and publications, providing lessons to developers, policymakers, researchers, and practitioners who are using—or are interested in using—NWoW or similar programming.