Low-income individuals with limited exposure to the world of work may lack the "soft skills" needed to get a job, stay employed, and advance. Soft skills are the non technical skills, abilities, and traits that workers need to function in a specific employment environment. They include four sets of workplace competencies: problem-solving and other cognitive skills, oral communication skills, personal qualities and work ethic, and interpersonal and teamwork skills.
Surveys of employers who hire entry-level workers reveal how important it is for job candidates to have soft skills. In Job Prospects for Welfare Recipients: Employers Speak Out, researchers found that a positive attitude and reliability are the two qualities that employers identify as most important when hiring someone for entry-level work (Regenstein et al., July 1998). Problems with interpersonal and other soft skills are a major barrier to employment that employers do not believe they can address on their own (Welfare to Work Partnership, 2000).There are different ways to provide soft skills training to individuals moving into the workforce. A job readiness curriculum that emphasizes employability skills is one approach. Soft skills training can also be incorporated into vocational training and other program activities. Agencies that provide employment-related services can structure programs to simulate the workplace. In addition, post-employment activities, such as case management, support groups, mentoring, and job coaching, provide opportunities to work on soft skills based on clients’ work-related experiences. One challenge for agencies is to assess and document soft skills. Agencies can market their soft skills training to employers and work with local employers to develop standards for job readiness. There is not a large body of research on soft skills and disadvantaged individuals, so readers interested in learning more about soft skills training are encouraged to follow up with the program contacts.