Exactly one year ago, we started our work on the 1st Output of the KA2 Playing 4 Soft Skills Project – the Soft Skills Evaluation Report.
The aim of the this report is to provide teachers, employers and other interested stakeholders with a guiding tool in order to understand the relevance of soft skills development, especially in relation to VET education, and with this to find out which soft skills should be addressed the most during our further project activities.
Recent studies underline that in the context of an increasingly globalised world and rapid technological change, employers of all sectors do not only merely look for technical knowledge, the, so called, “hard skills”, when selecting candidates, but tend to rather prioritise those characteristics involving personality traits, such as creative thinking, communication, negotiation or flexibility, referred to as so called “soft skills”. Furthermore, as recognised by the Council Recommendation 22/05/2018 on key competences for lifelong learning, those soft skills are particularly relevant for the development of key competences enabling young students to become active and responsible citizens in today’s society. Finally, according to the World Economic Forum 2020 study, the latest developments due to the Covid Pandemic demonstrated how certain skills related to self-management, such as stress tolerance, adapting to unknown situations and active learning proved to be essential during these times.
From our own perspective as a training agency which deals with mobilities in VET education every year, we recognized even more, that the focus of mobility curricula should be more balanced between the development and usage of those two – soft and hard skills – because the success of the stay is marked definitely by both. If the students are not able to adapt to unknown situations and understand the differences in cultures for example, they will be not able to handle and enjoy their work and studies abroad.
Therefore the first step of our research was to understand which soft skills are the most important ones looking at the educational, professional and every-day life contexts of teenagers. After extented bibliographic research we created a TOP List with 14 soft skills in November and December 2020. Then in several discussions with the project consortium we provided clear definitions for each of them and used them within our study in order to help students, VET educators and employers to understand them.
The second step of our research was to develop and distribute online questionnaires to find out which of those 14 soft skills, according to the preferences of VET- students, VET-teachers and employers of different sectors were the most important ones that our project should focus on. All of our 6 partners from the consortium participated in this task by contacting a huge amount of VET-schools and companies at the first 3 month of 2021. Overall 745 teenage students (age 14 to 19 years) as well as 382 VET teachers and employers from six European countries (Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Spain) participated in the study. The questionnaires explored the responses from all groups concerning but since the largest number of responses arrived from Italy, Latvia and Poland, the data sets from these three countries constituted the main focus of our analyses and contributed most to the conclusions.
Based on the quantitative analyses of the survey data from April to June 2021 by our polish partner Fundacja Salus Publica the following 5 soft skills have been suggested as the ones to be primarily developed further and targeted by the next activities of the project:
Interestingly our research also showed that students, teachers and employers have different opinions on the significance of those soft skills and their further need for development. It was therefore essential to recognize both the personal needs of the students and the expectations and expertise of the professionals.
To provide you with an example: Two of the top 5 selected skills, teamwork and dealing with stress were among the ones that differ the most between adults and students. For the teachers teamwork was highly important, for the students dealing with stress was among their top 3 selected soft skills. The reason could be that VET teachers and employers are considering teamwork to be essential for the modern and collaborative work environment, where the emphasis is placed on being compatible with other people. Students on the other hand are putting their focus more on their personal feelings dealing with everyday situations, especially in the context of the Pandemic. Since the project is aimed at “closing the gap” between the teachers-employees’ expectations and the students’ existing skills, our study highly take both views into account, without giving preference to one or the other.
Furthermore the analysis found that there is no clear or significant age-related trend in the responses for students across the considered age group from 14 to 19 years old. The researchers, therefore, concluded that the students’ views about soft skills do not change much throughout their teenage years.
Additionally, all the top 5 ranking preferences were positively correlated among students from the main 3 different countries Italy, Latvia and Poland. This result shows similarity among the views of students that can be generalized across several countries in Europe and, therefore, provides further evidence that the project’s impact shall be significant on young people belonging to different ages and different countries.
As the activities foreseen by the “Playing 4 Soft Skills” Project aim to develop the selected 5 soft skills in a game-based context, a short section about students’ game preferences has been included as well as a part of the report. From the research, it appeared that “board games” and “app games” are the top game categories among the students, therefore justifying the use of such game methodologies in the next project activities and outputs.
Finally, in relation to the selected soft skills, our research identified a set of valuable evaluation measures, in the terminology known as behavioural indicators. They should act as a useful framework for evaluation of the five preferred skills and can be further developed according to specific needs of educators throughout Europe.
The last two years have been a difficult time, both for the old and the young. While soft skills will always be important for each person’s professional, academic and personal life living in a truly globalized world, the recent Covid pandemic has shown even more where certain mind sets and personality traits are necessary in order to navigate through this fast-changing and challenging times. As a result, the five Soft Skills identified in our Soft Skills Evaluation report clearly reflect what needs young people have nowadays and what personal aspects they think are important for them to develop.
With this results, we are sure that our first output of the “Playing 4 Soft Skills Project” will help develop a broader sensitivity and awareness on the actual needs on soft skills of teenage students and can be easily transferred to other educational, professional and creative contexts.
We thank all our partners and all the students, educators and employers for their great help and input while developing our first output!
Silvia Dudek, Marta Laube and Michal Jasienski from BERLINK ETN GmbH and FUNDACJA SALUS PUBLICA.