Observatory “Soft skills”


Alessandra La Marca, Maria Cinque


The observatory on the “Soft Skills” aims to:

  1. implement a literature review regarding to the identification, definition and description of the so-called soft skills by carrying out qualitative and quantitative studies in Italy and abroad;
  2. offer a map of activities for soft skills development;
  3. provide the community with instruments and assessment tools together with certification of appropriate soft skills;
  4. analyse how the universities and/or other institutes prepare young people to face with the demands of the world of work. To make it happen, a research of best practice would be carried out on soft skills teaching and learning in university courses (e.g. autonomous courses or parts of regularly accredited disciplinary courses) and at school;
  5. verify how it is possible to activate the knowledge, abilities, attitudes and values through a process of reflection, anticipation and action in order to develop the necessary interconnected skills to interact with the world, as suggested by the OECD Learning Framework 2030.

Soft skills represent a dynamic combination of cognitive, metacognitive, interpersonal, intellectual and practical skills. Soft skills help people to adapt and effectively face the challenges of their professional and daily life. For this reason, there exists a distinction between hard skills (such as the knowledge and technical skills required to perform a given job) and soft skills (the personal and relational characteristics that an individual possesses). These two types of skills do not contribute in the same way to determining a successful performance.  Similar studies by various authors highlight that long-term success in work depends for 75-85% on individual skills and 25-15% on technical skills.

According to the Nobel Prize winner James J. Heckman: “Soft skills are personal traits, goals, motivations and preferences that are considered important in the labour market, but also at school and in other areas. Soft skills are predictive of success in life, for this reason they should be taken into account in public policies on the development and investment in training “(Heckman & Kautz, 2012).

There is no doubt that each definitions suggest different descriptions. The term “traits” suggests a sense of permanence and probably of inheritance, as well. The term “skills”, on the other hand, suggests that they can be learned and developed. Heckman suggests that the extent to which these personal attributes may change in the course of life may vary according to age. So, it is important to take action as early as possible because both for cognitive and socio-affective skills, the effectiveness of the investment is greater if it is done in the first stages of life.

The principle study topics of the observatory are as follows:
a) Reflection on the state of research
b) Assessment and self-assessment of Soft Skills
c) Soft Skills development at school
d) Soft Skills development at university
e) Soft Skills development and job orientation
f) Soft Skills development and higher education
g) Soft Skills development and active didactic methodologies (Problem-based learning, Case studies, Service Learning)

The observatory team consists of the following members: Massimo Margottini, Valeria Biasci, Leonarda Longo, Valeria Di Martino, Elif Gülbay, Claudio Pensieri and Anna Maria Ciraci.