There is growing evidence that non-cognitive skills are critical for long term life and career success. While the term itself implies an unconscious connection, it’s actually based on real science. Traits like concentration, self-motivation, organization, confidence, delegation, confidence and intuition all fall under the umbrella of non-cognitive.
While most of these traits are learned in life through a variety of experiences, they can also be taught. Often referred to as soft skills, these human characteristics are increasingly being focused on by workplace learning and development efforts.
New research shines light on non-cognitive learning
The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution just released their groundbreaking report Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills from Education to the Labor Market, which makes the case for non-cognitive skills development in the workplace. The report also highlights the importance of non-cognitive skills to individual performance and labor market outcomes, based on research pioneered by American economist and Nobel laureate James J. Heckman. The report advises that:
- The labor market rewards those with strong non-cognitive skills more often
- Jobs require more non-cognitive skills today, but are seriously lacking in candidates
- Workers with less non-cognitive skills are more likely to be left behind
- Individuals in the lowest quarter of non-cognitive skills are two-thirds less likely to complete postsecondary degrees
The Hamilton Project revealed that from 1980 to 2012, social and service job related processes have increased, while cognitive math-related and routine job tasks have tapered off. This data seems to be supported by the 2016 Leveling Up: How to Win in the Skills Economy survey published by PayScale that revealed the gaps between what skills candidates have and what recruiters are seeking. 60% of hiring managers told PayScale that critical thinking and problem solving skills are the most lacking among current college graduates.
What is creating the demand for non-cognitive skills?
The workplace is changing, as employees are expected to have a wider range of task-related skills and interpersonal non-cognitive skills that enable them to excel at work. David T. Conley, Professor at the University of Oregon, writes for Education Weekly that non-cognitive skills should be renamed as ‘success skills’ because they make up a much wider diverse network of human behaviors that can support effective learning. These are skills that transfer well from students to employees. However, Conley warns that it is difficult to accurately measure them using standardized tests.
The demand for non-cognitive skills is due to several factors, including:
- Enhancements in using technology to perform hard-skill tasks, like computing and analyzing data
- Changes in the way that millennials and Generation Z view work and communications
- Baby boomers quickly departing the workplace opening up new manage roles and ways of doing things
- Increasing ability to learn on-demand and to pick up task-oriented skills fast
- More adults completing college level courses and entering the workforce with advanced soft skills
- Employers preferring to hire candidates who demonstrate strong non-cognitive traits vs. skills that are quickly outdated
- The ease in transferring and applying non-cognitive skills from college to workplace
How can organizations train employees to enhance non-cognitive skills
Today, every workplace should have some form of internal learning and development department. From e-learning to mentoring, there are many ways to teach non-cognitive skills. Even more seasoned employees can pick up advanced skills from being in the presence of those who have strong soft skills. Learning topics can center on more non-cognitive traits like time management, interpersonal communication and co-worker relationship building. Other skills like dealing with difficult people, public speaking for confidence, and collective problem solving are wise investments.
Combine non-cognitive training with more task-related cognitive training. The human learning pattern indicates that employees do better and score higher on assessments when there is a combined learning program in place. So too, micro learning and role-playing can effectively introduce and teach non-cognitive skills. Employers that are struggling with finding enough candidates with the desired skills can work with local colleges and universities to coordinate internships that focus on these areas.