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The Rising Importance of Soft Skills in Driving Productivity


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The Rising Importance of Soft Skills in Driving Productivity

The economy of the future requires a workforce with strong soft skills. Investing in these crucial skills can result in increased productivity.

Soft skills – the behavioural and social traits that enable individuals to work harmoniously with one another – are not just nice to have, they’re essential for the growth of a nation.

In France, 60 percent of employers consider soft skills, such as the ability to organise, adapt and work in teams, to be more important than technical competencies. However, France is far behind other developed economies when it comes to its stock of soft skills.

In our report for the Conseil d’Analyse Economique, an independent advisory group for the French Prime Minister, we estimated how much France could benefit by closing its soft skill gap. Our findings suggest that investing in soft skills will result in higher individual, firm and aggregate productivity, and enable the expansion of sectors that are projected to see total factor productivity growth in years to come.

Measuring the gap

To estimate France’s soft skills deficit, we ranked 18 developed countries using data from the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The results indicated that France has the third-lowest average level of soft skills, ranking just above Germany and Japan. The United States, Czech Republic and Denmark took the top three spots.

Furthermore, this skill gap was as prevalent among highly educated individuals as those who have not attended university, implying that France’s soft skills deficit is not limited to certain education groups.

France’s lack of soft skills is not just an issue among its adult population. Another OECD survey found that French school students are less persevering, less efficient in problem solving and exhibit lower levels of internal locus of control relative to their American, German and Northern European counterparts. Prior research has shown that the French education system fails to develop collectiveness and collaboration amongst students.

How soft skills influence productivity

In the last 40 years, occupations requiring strong social skills – the traits that enable individuals to interact appropriately in a given social context – have become increasingly important. We measured the evolution of social skills used in the French and American labour force from 1982 to 2020 using employment stock data. In both countries, we observed a rise in occupations that require social skills and a slowdown in the growth of occupations with lower social skill requirement.

Occupations that require high social and high math/analytical (HSHM) skills include engineers, finance professionals, doctors, teachers and production and operations managers. In France, the share of those employed in such occupations grew as much as 9 percentage points between 1982 and 2020. However, by 2020, France still had a lower share of occupations that require high social skills than the US.

The Rising Importance of Soft Skills in Driving Productivity
Listening patiently and without obviously biting off your tongue while the chair "goes around the table" and everyone takes a turn at "I feel that...".

If "answer the question asked" is a soft skill, then I'm all for it.
On my SLC they taughtthere’s three competencies -
Technical skill
Conceptual skill
Human skill,

It’s that simple.