As part of my over 35 years of experience in the career development field, I have had the opportunity to support practitioners in their work with clients through the lens of the soft skills measured by the Employment Readiness Scale™ (ERS). Research shows that the five critical outcome-validated soft skills measured by the ERS can make all the difference between moving forward or stalling, between seeing challenges as possibilities or as seemingly insurmountable barriers (Ward & Riddle, 2002b, 2014). The underlying dynamic is resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity (Riddle, 2018).
So, what are the key soft skills that make a difference between a client’s success or failure? And how can we, as service providers working with individuals in career and employment transition, help people take charge of their lives and effectively move forward toward their goals?
The two most fundamental soft skills measured by the ERS that it is important to help clients strengthen are self-efficacy and outcome expectancy. Together, they combine to measure motivation (Bandura, 1992, 1997; Solberg, 1998; Ward & Riddle, 2002a). Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to perform well – it is a component of self-esteem. We can undermine someone’s self-efficacy by criticizing their ideas about next steps, insisting that we know what is best for them, or pointing out their past failures and implying that they are likely to repeat them. By contrast, we can strengthen their self-efficacy by reminding them of their past successes and building on them, encouraging them to make their own decisions, and assisting them in considering a range of options rather than one “right” approach.
Outcome expectancy measures whether the individual expects to succeed and whether they see themselves as personally responsible for causing that success through their own actions. We can weaken outcome expectancy by doing things for someone that they could just as well do for themselves, by encouraging them to blame others for their failures or by reinforcing a sense of entitlement. Or, we can strengthen outcome expectancy by reminding them of how they have created past successes, helping them gain insight through learning from past difficulties, encouraging them to take action for themselves whenever possible and coaching them in trying out new behaviours in small steps.
When we support clients in strengthening both self-efficacy and outcome expectancy, the result can be powerful. Usually, they become better able to:
- Make decisions about a type of work to pursue that affirms and makes good use of their strengths and interests, and upholds their values
- Learn and perform well in education or training
- Present themselves effectively to potential employers
- Move through a series of work-life changes successfully
- Connect positively with others to perform well as part of a team
- Manage whatever challenges they face
- View their work history in a positive light, even seeing the benefits gained from negative experiences
There is also a third soft skill that is an important contributor to work life success: social supports, or the ability to cultivate and maintain social networks, having people we can turn to for information, practical help and emotional support. This may seem like just a “nice-to-have,” but indeed our research and experience show that it is one of the best predictors of work-life success. We all benefit from feeling that we are part of an interconnected web of concern and support. This feeling can be undermined if a client is criticized for reaching out or discovers that others are bad-mouthing them. We can encourage the building of strong networks if we assist clients in becoming part of environments where they can help others – the first and most important step in building a network.
By working with clients on these soft skills, research shows that we can support our clients in becoming more resilient, more able to deal with sources of trauma or stress, and more able to anticipate and manage work-life changes.
For further information on the Employment Readiness Scale™, please see www.EmploymentReadiness.info.
Bandura, A. (1992). Exercise of Personal Agency Through the Self-Efficacy Mechanism. In Self-Efficacy: Thought Control of Action. Edited by R. Schwarzer. Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere.
(1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Riddle (2018): Resilience: Key to Work Life Success http://www.employmentreadiness.info/sites/employmentreadiness.info/files/files/Articles/Resilience%20and%20Work%20Life%20Success_2018.pdf
Solberg, B.S., et al (1998). The Adaptive Success Identity Plan (ASIP): A Career Intervention for College Students. The Career Development Quarterly 47: 48–95.
Ward & Riddle (2014): Weaving Soft Skills Development into Everyday Employment Services in Canada: http://www.employmentreadiness.info/sites/employmentreadiness.info/files/files/Articles/Weaving%20Soft%20Skills_canada_2014.pdf
Ward & Riddle (2002a). Ensuring Effective Employment Services: http://www.employmentreadiness.info/sites/employmentreadiness.info/files/files/Organizations/Ensuring%20Effective%20Employment%20Services.pdf
Ward & Riddle (2002b, revised 2018): Summary of Research on the Employment Readiness Scale™: http://www.employmentreadiness.info/node/4