School of Education News

Report on soft skills from UW-Madison’s Hora, Benbow, Smolarek published in Change magazine

December 07, 2018

UW-Madison’s Matthew Hora and colleagues Ross Benbow and Bailey Smolarek recently had a report critiquing the idea of soft skills published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning.

A summary of the report explains:

• Colleges and universities are increasingly focused on ensuring that their students graduate with skills to become employable, particularly so-called “soft skills” such as communication.

• The Soft Skills Paradigm views skills as generic, context-independent, and simple to teach and learn. It overlooks how normative views of skills are constructed by those in positions of power, often marginalizing notions of skill from minoritized groups.

• In contrast, the Cultural Capital Paradigm views human competency as complex, grounded in professional norms, difficult to teach and learn, and differentially valued depending on the profession and situation.

• The time for a paradigm change is now, and postsecondary institutions should reject the Soft Skills Paradigm for a more nuanced, culturally-grounded perspective. 

Hora is an assistant professor of adult and higher education in the Department of Liberal Arts and Applied Studies, and is an affiliate with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Hora is also a research scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), and the director of UW-Madison’s Center for College-Workforce Transitions (CCWT), which is housed within WCER.  

Benbow is a researcher with WCER and earned his Ph.D. from the School of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies. Smolarek also is a researcher with WCER, and earned her Ph.D. from the School of Education's No. 1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

More information about the report, “Re-thinking Soft Skills and Student Employability: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” can be found here.


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