In recent years, as the evidence base on the importance of soft and life skills for fostering positive youth outcomes has grown, international youth development programs have increasingly focused on interventions that develop those skills (also referred to as socioemotional skills, transferrable skills, non-cognitive skills, and developmental assets, among other terms). For the sake of clarity, this paper hereafter uses the term “soft skills” to refer to this body of skills -- as this term is widely understood among youth, employers, program implementers, and researchers – while acknowledging that the term “life skills” is preferred by many in the sexual and reproductive health field, and that other terms may be preferred in other contexts. The growth in soft skills-focused interventions has resulted in an urgent need among youth development programs for soft skill measures that can be used for program implementation and evaluation.
Soft skills measurement is still an emerging area of research, however, and the landscape of soft skills measures is varied and fragmented across disciplines. This report attempts to bring clarity to this field by identifying existing instruments that can be used or adapted for use across youth programs in developing country contexts. USAID’s YouthPower Action project has completed a review of soft skill measurement tools and created an inventory describing characteristics that can be useful to international youth development programs that seek to assess participants’ soft skills. This summary report describes general findings about the universe of tools reviewed, as well as specific findings about tools that measure a select set of key soft skills, and suggests recommendations for improving those resources. Prior work by YouthPower Action identified key soft skills that foster positive workforce, violence prevention, and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes (see the papers “Key Soft Skills for Cross-Sectoral Youth Development” by Gates et al. (2016) and “Key ‘Soft Skills’ that Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus Across Fields” by Lippman et al. (2015)). From those systematic reviews of the literature, three skills emerged with the highest degree of research support across all three outcome areas: self-control, positive self-concept, and higher order thinking skills. Four additional skills rose to the top for certain outcome areas, but not all: social skills, communication, goal orientation, and empathy. These cross-cutting seven skills were the focus of the measurement tool review. In addition, the skills of hard work and dependability, responsibility, and positive attitude were also noted in the search for measures since they received strong support in the workforce literature, and the latter two received support at a lower level across all three outcome areas.