1.2.2 Hard Skills

Discussions of “hard” or “technical” skills were embedded in virtually all workforce development-related conversations at the 2013 Conference, particularly in discussions of private sector engagement and higher education partnerships.  Yet, the recent attention given to soft skills deficits in the global WfD discussion, combined with the impression that [many] hard skills are best learned ‘on-the-job,’ or are too specific to be taught outside of the industry context, has perhaps created a less favorable climate for hard skill program development.  Furthermore, the relative difficulty of most implementers to make significant impacts on learners’ hard skills within typical project timeframes in contrast to the relative ease of rapidly addressing workplace, interpersonal, and intra-personal skills certainly diminishes the evolution of the practice to some extent.

Nevertheless, GYEOC 2013 presenter Mona Mourshed, Director of Education at McKinsey, noted that workers’ hard/technical skills will remain relevant, even as soft skills become more important for employment and mobility.  She also noted that most youth know that they obtain hard skills more effectively in “learning by doing” modalities, but only about a quarter of students have access to these experiences. McKinsey’s call for the development of “integrator entities” that oversee skill development—both hard and soft skills—that optimally deploys human capital to support key industries, further evidences the continued need to maintain an emphasis on hard skills.

The following lessons learned, which are highlighted in previous State of the Field in Youth Economic Opportunities Publications, remain useful for implementers designing programs with hard/technical skill components and demonstrate the evolution of thinking in this area:

Findings from the 2012 “State of the Field” publication[1]

  • Understanding the global industries’ position and upgrading trajectory can help ensure that training is relevant to current and future skills needs.
  • Industry standards—from both global and local industries — can guide curriculum development to ensure industry relevance and skill portability for learners.
  • Make classroom-based training more interactive and practical to assist in the transition from “learning” to “doing”.

Findings from the 2013 “State of the Field” publication[2]

  • Appropriately-structured applied-learning experiences can help overcome low academic preparation and catalyze rapid skill development.
  • Engage employers and other stakeholders in curriculum development throughout the process, not as an afterthought or simply for approval.
  • Build local teacher capacity through consistent professional development and standardized teacher training.
  • Use certificates and competency certifications for current and future credential holders, but invest in quality control and accreditation to ensure credentials are meaningful and relevant.