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Thursday, August 5, 2021
Exploring the creation of a Canadian ‘soft’ skills framework
Research & Trends

Exploring the creation of a Canadian ‘soft’ skills framework

A person’s success in the workplace is driven by far more than their knowledge and technical competency. Skills often described as ‘soft,’ such as attitude, accountability or resilience are broadly recognized as critical to success in the workplace and life in general. There is growing discussion about how these ‘human’ skills will be of even greater importance as we move toward a workplace filled with artificial-intelligence-driven automation. Yet, despite their importance, we struggle with key questions about how to assess and develop these skills, what to call them, and how best to incorporate them as important outcomes of our training and education programs.

Taking action

To address these questions, Futureworx, an enterprising non-profit based in Nova Scotia, sought funding from the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) to explore the creation of a pan-Canadian ‘soft’ skills framework. The resulting project seeks to have the importance of these skills reflected more clearly and effectively in the programs and practices designed to build a competitive and productive Canadian workforce. Specifically, it has three objectives:

  • To develop a plan to create a common assessment and development approach for ‘soft’ skills in Canada;
  • To explore how OLES might expand Canada’s existing Essential Skills framework to more fully support the ‘soft’ skills; and
  • To identify and develop common terminology around ‘soft’ skills.

The project consists of three main activities: a national survey designed to gather broad inputs on ‘soft’ skill language and practices, a literature review to explore the work being done on this important topic in Canada, and a gathering of stakeholders from across Canada to discuss the issues and make recommendations on a way forward.

A path forward

The gathering took place in early August with a wide range of stakeholders from almost every province and territory, including experts and representatives from government, employers, career developers,  researchers, educators and OLES. Over three days, the group reviewed the results of the national survey and literature review and worked to form recommendations on how we could move ahead on these skills in a co-operative manner. Some important recommendations were suggested for OLES to consider, including:

  • Expanding the existing Essential Skills framework to more fully recognize the importance of behaviours or attributes that are critical to performing well at work. It was thought that doing so would help encourage and support trainers and educators to include behavioural competency in programming as important outcomes. It would also help employers identify desired attributes in their job descriptions and postings, and subsequently to develop them in their employees.
  • Dividing the Essential Skills into two sets to accommodate the new ‘soft’ skills and provide clear language. The group tentatively called the first set Functional Skills (e.g., Reading, writing, numeracy), which directly support the completion of workplace functions and tasks and which are already well described in the Essential Skills framework. The group suggested naming the second set Behavioural Skills, which would include behaviours that that support the effective and efficient completion of work activities (e.g., attitude, accountability, motivation). By referring to Behavioural Skills as a recognized set, the group sought to focus attention on the training needed to help people develop the self-awareness and strategies required for effective engagement in the workplace. It was agreed that an initial set of core Behavioural Skills for general workplace success should be proposed, but the goal would be to allow users of the framework to submit the skills they need so that a comprehensive skill library could be formed to reflect sectoral, regional or cultural needs.
  • The group understood that each skill in the expanded Essential Skills structure would fall on a continuum between Functional and Behavioural extremes, and that some skills have strong elements of each. Those skills in the centre, such as the existing skill Working with Others, could be collectively referred to as a Social Skill set, but it is yet unclear if such a third set would be helpful.
  • Creating a national backbone organization, governed by stakeholders, to vet and maintain the expanded framework and evolving skill library, promote its use, and create opportunities for the development and sharing of good practices.

The project report detailing such recommendations for OLES consideration will be submitted by Futureworx in November. It will also be posted, along with the survey report, on the Futureworx website. The report will outline suggested next steps for transforming these recommendations into a detailed plan that incorporates feedback from stakeholders across Canada. Such a plan also needs to consider how changes to the Essential Skills framework will impact on other projects, such as the newly formed FutureSkills Centre and current efforts to rewrite the Career Handbook.

The workplace of the future will require a mix of new skills and ones that have always been important to successful personal and collaborative work. We must act proactively to ensure everyone has the skills needed to participate in a rapidly changing workforce. A pan-Canadian skills framework that recognizes and supports the assessment and development of behavioural skills is a step in the right direction.

For more information on the project, please contact Paul Brinkhurst, paulb@futureworx.ca.

Paul Brinkhurst is the Innovations Developer at Futureworx Society, where he spearheads the building of programs and resources to develop the skills of people seeking to enhance their work experience, including the Employability Skills Assessment Tool, ESAT. A passionate advocate for the development of ‘soft’ skills as training outcomes, Paul works from Okotoks, Alberta.
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Paul Brinkhurst is the Innovations Developer at Futureworx Society, where he spearheads the building of programs and resources to develop the skills of people seeking to enhance their work experience, including the Employability Skills Assessment Tool, ESAT. A passionate advocate for the development of ‘soft’ skills as training outcomes, Paul works from Okotoks, Alberta.
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