The Need for Soft Skills

Soft skills are now widely considered to be essential for both employability and wellbeing, yet they are in short supply. Here are some of the facts: 

“The larger message is… that soft skills predict success in life, that they causally produce that success, and that programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies.” James Heckman and Tim Kautz, 2012. “Hard evidence on soft skills,” (National Bureau of Economic Research)


“Soft skills are an asset that neither employers nor employees can ignore.” James Caan CBE 2015

Research from the Sutton Trust (2017) finds that 94% of employers say soft skills are as or more important than academic qualifications, with one third saying they are even more important.

“It is the ability to show flexibility, creativity, and teamwork that are increasingly becoming just as valuable, if not more valuable, than academic knowledge and technical skills,”  Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust.

Independent research and policy documents from a wide range of sources show that soft skills shortages, particularly among young people, are a serious problem. Organisations who have expressed this concern include the CBI, the National Association of Colleges and Employers; the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; Ernst & Young; LearnDirect; the British Chambers of Commerce; Business in the Community; the National Careers Service; Cisco; Deloitte; Barclays Bank; and MacDonalds, to name a few.

“By 2020, more than half a million workers will be held back by a lack of soft skills.” Development Economics 2015

In their 2012 assessment, Hays, the global recruiter, showed that there is a common perception that candidates do not have a sufficient standard of soft skills; four years on and “the majority of employers report worsening skill shortages.”

“Soft skills are the ones that our clients globally say are in most demand. For anyone considering their career options these are the skills to focus on.”  Hays 2015


“Soft skills matter more than cognitive ability for general mental well-being (such as greater life satisfaction, mental health and well-being).” Skills for Life And Work, 2015

Soft skills development is not only beneficial to employability; soft skills are equally essential for personal wellbeing. Our current work primarily supports young women – here are some of the reasons why:

Confidence is a vital soft skill. Research shows that lack of confidence not only holds women back in their professional lives, but also correlates with negative outcomes in their personal lives, such as depression, teenage pregnancy, and poor self-image, with a gender gap, affecting girls, emerging at adolescence.

“Our surveys give a stark insight into the many pressures girls face today.” Girlguiding

Research from University College London and the Anna Freud Centre (Journal of Adolescent Health 2015) found that problems such as low self-confidence, mild anxiety and deep unhappiness — all risk factors for more serious mental illnesses — rose in girls by 55 per cent from 2009 to 2014 (while similar factors were unchanged in boys), showing an ever greater need for building girls’ confidence and self-esteem.

These findings are echoed in research from NHS Digital (September 2016), which shows that young women aged 16 – 24 are now a “high-risk group”, 3 times more likely as men to be suffering from depression and anxiety.

Soft skills improve girls’ career opportunities as well as their ability to recognise and respond to abuse and bullying, to make positive life choices, and to develop healthy relationships.

Developing soft skills also reduces risk factors associated with youth crime such as:

  • Low achievement
  • Adolescent mental health problems
  • Becoming under / unemployed
  • Problem behaviour
  • Being abused
  • Young parenthood
  • Poverty

“Soft skills development is extremely important and can make all the difference to a young person’s life. Yet it’s very difficult for us to deliver them within the regular curriculum.” Naz Deen, Careers Advisor, Haringey 6th Form Centre

Socio-economic dimension

“Developing soft skills is very important, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.” Mark Boleat, former Policy Chairman, City of London Corporation 

The Sutton Trust research shows that less than half (46%) of students from disadvantaged backgrounds participate in extra-curricular activities, which can provide soft skills development, compared to 66% from better off families.

“Attitude and aspirations account for 22% of the rich/poor gap at GCSE attainment.” Chowdry, Crawford and Goodman

Research undertaken by The Prince’s Trust and HSBC highlight teachers views:

  • 45% of teachers felt that a lack of soft skills was one of the most likely factors to hold students back in life
  • 91% of teachers think schools should do more to help pupils develop teamwork and communication skills
  • 31% of teachers think soft skills as key to their pupils’ life chances rather than “good grades” (18%).
  • 46% think self-confidence of disadvantaged students is lower than that of other students

“While young people are painfully aware of the importance of getting good grades and under incredible pressure to achieve them, this report shows that the life and character skills considered key to success in their working lives are at risk of being overlooked” Dame Martina Milburn, Chief Executive, The Prince’s Trust