Skilling me softly

Feather

Feather 1 by Jim Champion. From Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Recently industry, community groups and informal learning providers have come together to research and advocate for more investment in soft skills development. The group has produced the Backing Soft Skills report, which highlights the importance of soft skills to the (UK) economy:

“soft skills contribute £88 billion to the UK economy today – with this contribution predicted to increase to £109 billion during the next five years.”

via McDonald’s Backing Soft Skills.

Inviting educational institutions to work with them, the group are aiming to embed soft skills development in educational practices. In discussions I’ve had with higher education institutions globally over the past year, there seems to be an increasing interest in recognising soft skills. Clearly, given my interest in Open Badges, discussions have often revolved around this, sometimes because I’ve been specifically invited to discuss them in this context and sometimes because discussions have just ended up on this topic as a highly relevant way to evidence soft skills.

Implementing Open Badges can help to begin a discussion around soft skills, which may be couched in terms of employability skills, additional skills, character attributes etc. After a presentation I gave this week on Open Badges at the University of Stirling, various areas of application were discussed, such as using Open Badges to recognise:

  • The voluntary work of Class Reps, who develop a range of skills around communication, negotiation, leadership
  • The skills developed by 4th year students who teach and mentor students in 1st year
  • Graduate attributes – attributes the University thinks graduates will need for work
  • Additional skills highlighted via the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), which might include volunteering, awards etc.

One of the Backing Soft Skills report’s findings, is that employees can often struggle to articulate their soft skills. This chimes with research that underpinned the Mozilla Discovery project, which investigated badge-based pathways to employment. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of working on that project was how the process of engaging with the badge ecosystem could be used to help people identify their strengths, including hard and soft skills, in order to discover their intrinsic motivators. This knowledge can be useful as it can help people to make better choices about possible career or learning pathways, based on things they would enjoy as well as be good at. This in turn can have a positive impact on employers or educators because they would be engaging with people who were intrinsically motivated by their job or studies and so more likely to demonstrate resilience in overcoming challenges and stay the course to a given destination point. Clearly a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce will have a positive impact on the economy.

A recent example of the link between Open Badges and the ability to articulate skills was highlighted to me by the team developing Open Badges at Abertay University. They commented that the process of gaining Open Badges for soft skills or personal attributes has had the effect of helping their students to better understand their competencies and how they have demonstrated them. This has provided the students with the confidence to talk about their strengths, backed up by tangible and ready-to-hand examples, which they can use in competency based job interviews.

The Backing Soft Skills research and report adds further weight to existing efforts to implement processes and practices for developing and capturing soft skills. One of the key reasons for the development of the Open Badges specification was to capture and evidence soft skills and personal attributes that are not explicitly recognised through formal qualifications, and this alongside other ways they can aid in soft skills articulation, suggests to me that Open Badges will have an increasingly important role to play in the employment and education spheres.

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