Increasingly, companies are dropping four-year degree requirements in job postings, favoring skill-based requirements—such as communication and writing—instead. These types of nonacademic “soft skills” are viewed as essential for employment—employers consistently cite these abilities as among the most valuable in job applicants, yet also the most difficult to assess.
In response to this growing emphasis on soft skills, postsecondary educators are looking for ways to teach the skills explicitly. The aim is to produce graduates with recognizable competency not only in academic and career-technical skills, but also in the soft skills needed to navigate a modern, diverse, and rapidly evolving work environment.
This brief outlines practical considerations and recommendations for developing and implementing soft-skills programs, curricula, and instruction in a postsecondary setting. These qualitative lessons are culled from an in-depth examination of a soft-skills training and assessment program called the New World of Work (NWoW). NWoW was selected for this study in part because it combines three components theorized to strengthen soft skills:
- A classroom curriculum with direct instruction in 10 soft skills
- A concurrent, work-based learning experience
- An assessment and credential-granting component (digital badges)
The NWoW curriculum was developed in 2012 and supported in its early operations by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and the Foundation for California Community colleges. It has been deployed at over 75 community colleges in California, as well as high schools, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. From 2016 to 2022 the research team conducted four rounds of site visits, and spoke with 16 instructors across five community colleges pilot testing the program, 37 students in focus group settings, and 15 employers. Insights from these conversations and site visits inform this brief.