The Importance of Employability Skills

U.S. competitiveness in the global economy depends on a workforce that has acquired both the technical knowledge needed for specific occupations and the “employability skills” required for all jobs.

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The Employability Skills Gap

In a recent Business Roundtable/Change the Equation survey, 98 percent of CEOs reported they have problems “finding candidates with the competencies and training to fill open positions”—at all skill levels.1 Numerous surveys of employers indicate that while applicants may be technically proficient, they don’t have the skills needed to be productive members of the organization. In particular, studies show that since 1980, almost all the job growth in the United States has been in occupations that require high social skills.2

According to surveys and research, the skills most needed by employers (but largely absent in applicants) are these: communication, decision making, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, and creativity and innovation. Employers want to hire and retain employees who have the ability to think critically and work effectively with others.

Self-motivation, time management, communication, problem solving, and relationship building—some common aspects of social and emotional learning (SEL)—are the skills needed for 21st-century jobs. Research shows that the skills taught in SEL curricula have wide-ranging benefits that affect a young person’s success in school, career, and life.3–6 In addition, SEL programs benefit the economy and can pay for themselves many times over.7

The National Network of Business and Industry Associations, which represents employers from major economic sectors, has created a roadmap for employers, potential employees, and educators that identifies fundamental skills for employability. These common employability skills provide the foundation for linking the fundamentals to be taught in educational settings to success in career and business productivity.8

Unfortunately, a recent World Economic Forum report found that SEL is being insufficiently prioritized in educational policy development.9

Recommendations to Address the Employability Skills Gap

To better prioritize SEL and employability skills, policymakers should:

  • Include SEL and employability skills language in legislation, such as the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and in support for educator professional development
  • Prioritize funding for teaching research-based SEL curricula in preschool, elementary and secondary school, and career and technical colleges and universities
  • Identify reliable SEL measurements related to career and technical education and workforce success
  • Work with the business community to identify the skills and competencies needed in a changing job market and ensure that these foundational skills are being taught in schools


  1. Business Roundtable. (n.d.). Closing the skills gap. Retrieved from
  2. Deming, D. J. (2015). The growing importance of social skills in the labor market (NBER Working Paper No. 21473). Cambridge, MA:National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from
  3. Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283–90. Retrieved from
  4. Weissberg, R. P., Durlak, J. A., Domitrovich, C. E., & Gullotta, T. P. (2016, February 15). Why social and emotional learning is essential for students [Web log post]. Retrieved from
  5. Hawkins, J. D., Kosterman, R., Catalano, R. F., Hill, K. G., & Abbott, R. D. (2008). Effects of social development intervention in childhood 15 years later. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 162(12), 1133–1141. doi:10.1001/archpedi.162.12.1133
  6. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Schellinger, K. B., Dymnicki, A. B., & Taylor, R. D. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432. doi:10.1111/j.1467- 8624.2010.01564.x
  7. Belfield, C., Bowden, B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The economic value of social and emotional learning. Retrieved from the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education website:
  8. National Network of Business and Industry Associations. (2014). Common employability skills: A foundation for success in the workplace: The skills all employees need, no matter where they work. Retrieved from Common%20Employability_asingle_fm.pdf
  9. Shirley, A. (2016, May 18). Five charts that explain the future of education. Retrieved from the World Economic Forum website: https://
  10. Employability Skills Framework. (n.d.). Skills for college and career readiness. Retrieved from
  11. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (n.d.). What is SEL? Retrieved from