WB urges educational overhaul to teach ‘soft skills’

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THE World Bank (WB) said Philippine employers are reporting difficulties in recruiting workers with the appropriate “soft skills” above and beyond the desired technical qualifications.

In a report, “Developing Socioemotional Skills for the Philippines’ Labor Market,” the bank said “about one-third of employers report being unable to fill vacancies due a lack of applicants with the requisite skills. Most of these “missing skills” are not academic knowledge or technical know-how, but rather socioemotional skills, also known as ‘non-cognitive skills,’ ‘soft skills’ or ‘behavioral skills.’”

The report also claimed a correlation between greater socioemotional skills and higher earnings.

“[M]ost socioemotional skills are related to labor earnings in a comparable way to that of traditional educational attainment,” the report said.

The Skills Toward Employability and Productivity (STEP) survey cited by World Bank in the report showed that “one additional year of education was associated with a 3% increase in wages, whereas one standard deviation in socioemotional skills was associated with a 5.6% to 9% increase in wages, or a difference of approximately $2 per day. Extraversion and openness to new experiences were the socioemotional skills most strongly correlated with increased earning.”

Socioemotional skills are most strongly linked to higher wages among women and younger workers. Women are more likely to engage in activities that require interpersonal skills.

Among male workers, extraversion is the only socioemotional skill that significantly correlates with increased earnings. However, female workers who are more open to new experiences, are extraverted, exhibit strong decision making power, and possess higher levels of grit and conscientiousness are better rewarded in the labor market. The same is true for younger workers, who drive most of the overall correlation between socioemotional skills and wages.

The World Bank recommended that policy makers integrate socioemotional skills into the curriculum for its newly compulsory kindergarten-through-grade-12 educational system.

“Schools are the ideal setting in which to teach these skills because, of any public institution, the school environment has greatest influence over children and teenagers. The Philippine government can strengthen both its educational and labor force policies to encourage the development of socioemotional skills,” the World Bank said.

Mainstreaming socioemotional skills includes setting aside greater time for subjects such as music, arts, physical education, health, and values education and training teachers in pedagogical techniques that embed the teaching of socioeconomic skills in traditional academic subjects such as reading and math.

In a World Bank press release, Mara K. Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, said: “Numeracy, literacy, technical skills, and school enrollment are benchmarks of a productive, modern nation.”

“But the jobs of the future also require skills that promote individual behavior, personality, attitude and mind-set. Integrating behavioral skills in schools and vocational training will help the Philippines to be more competitive globally,” Ms. Warwick added. — Arjay L. Balinbin