Soft Skills and key competences for Europe: a new world of work

In the toolbox of learning the art and putting it aside, knowing how to do it in the world of work is obviously indispensable. But knowing how to be also counts. Today much more than one might believe. Our attitudes, those which often cannot be "certified", but which relate to personal skills relating to communication, behavior and which characterize the way in which we place ourselves in the working context, today take on an added value in the curriculum.

It's Soft Skills and are distinguished from hard skills which are purely technical and professional ones. Knowing them and being aware of the importance and role that Soft skills have becomes instead a real Hard skills. Compared to these they are much more difficult to develop because they represent the result of our social and cultural background. They are mostly the result of behaviors and lived experiences that pertain to the personal and professional sphere and there are no schools that can teach them.

The adaptability to teamwork, punctuality in deliveries, being multitasking, proactivity, the correct management of conflicts and emotions, empathy, coping with stress are just some of those peculiarities that belong to the sphere of individual attitudes and there is not one more important than the others. Individually or together they represent an interpersonal and economic added value both for a single professional and for companies.

They are precious and should, for example, be inserted correctly and with the right emphasis in the curriculum because they can make the difference in having a better chance of obtaining the role you want or even a promotion.

For about 10 years, in Europe, modern organizations have given increasing value to Soft Skills compared to what happened in the past and now they are considered almost in the same way as Hard Skills, especially in personnel selection.

It should be noted that the Covid 19 pandemic has also had a profound impact on millions of people in the EU due to the loss of work and income. This obviously will lead many people to have to acquire new skills and others, to keep their jobs, will have to improve them. The strong acceleration brought about by digital is profoundly changing the world and the labor market, ousting old professions and imposing new professions. The professionals that companies are looking for are no longer only those capable of carrying out the task that is required of them, they are those who perform it much better than others. Soft Skills are placed at this juncture and represent the working style of a person: the way in which he carries out the assigned tasks and role, his personal style regardless of the Hard Skills which are the knowledge and qualifications that a person possesses.

Soft Skills are those forms of skills that the EU has included in the key competences. Already in 2006 the Parliament and the European Council had approved a Recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning and in 2018 the new ones were published, which clearly show the fundamental right for every individual to develop these competences. They represent precisely that combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that become indispensable to face both the changes underway and those that are announced on the horizon.

Indeed, EU Member States are called upon to support the right to quality education, training and lifelong learning and to ensure that all have opportunities to develop key competences. There are eight identified in the document

  • Functional alphabetic competence
  • Multilingual competence
  • Mathematical competence and competence in science, technology and engineering
  • Digital competence
  • Personal, social competence and the ability to learn to learn
  • Competence in matters of citizenship
  • Entrepreneurial competence
  • Expertise in cultural awareness and expression

and are defined as "those that everyone needs for personal fulfillment and development, employability, social inclusion, a sustainable lifestyle, a fruitful life in peaceful societies, health-conscious life management and active citizenship". They develop, as reported in the European document, in a lifelong learning perspective, from early childhood to all adult life, through formal, non-formal and informal learning in all contexts, including family, school, place of work, the neighborhood and other communities.

The key competences are all considered to be of equal importance and each of them contributes to a fruitful life in society. They can be applied in many different contexts and in different combinations. They overlap and are interconnected; the essential aspects for one area favor competences in another. Elements such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, communication and negotiation skills, analytical skills, creativity and intercultural skills underlie all key competences.

In 2020, the European Commission launched a Skills Pact: a model of shared commitment between all Member States for the development of these skills. National, regional, local authorities, businesses, workers, social partners, intersectoral and sectoral organizations, education and training providers, chambers of commerce and employment services all have a key role to play in supporting and take concrete action to improve and reskill people in Europe.

This pact represents the first fundamental move in the field ofEuropean Agenda for Skills  and is closely connected to the European pillar of social rights .

The key principles contained in the agreement are:

  • Promote a culture of lifelong learning for all
  • Building strong partnerships of skills
  • Monitoring the demand / supply of skills and anticipation of skills needs
  • Work against discrimination and for gender equality and equal opportunities

And from this year the European Commission has been supporting the signatories of the Pact with dedicated services and specific support funds, which we hope will be fully utilized. Every country needs to make a massive investment in skills, because the EU, in addition to economically supporting the recovery,UE  with these actions, it is also giving priority to investments in people and their skills. Because key competences and basic skills are extremely important and necessary for everyone for personal fulfillment and development, employability, social inclusion and active citizenship.

This is why the European Commission helps Member States to strengthen basic skills and key competences for all citizens, facilitating mutual learning and the exchange of best practices.

Following the pandemic, many people will need to retrain professionally or improve the skills they already possess, to adapt to the changes in the labor market caused by the crisis that has heavily affected various sectors.

It will be necessary to improve and adapt "skills for employment", which are those that allow people to find a job on the basis of a solid analysis of skills needs and a modern and dynamic training offer that is links directly to the needs of the labor market.

Key skills therefore become fundamental to support the post-Covid-19 recovery and to be able to face the challenges imposed by demographic changes, by the dual green and digital transition that is transforming our way of working and living.

Ines Caloisi



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