Soft Skills and Generic Skills as Key Competencies

Kerstin Boll
Communication and interaction skills

What are soft skills and why are they, together with generic skills, considered as key factors for competitiveness and effective measures against the shortage of skilled workers?

Soft skills and generic skills are directly related to the competitiveness of your company. Employees must be able to adapt to the conditions of today's working world. This means, first and foremost, constant change, the need to work closely with colleagues, and the willingness to learn and develop.

For the employees, on the other hand, this means high demands and often stress. For them, it's all about staying healthy and productive and maintaining their enjoyment of their jobs.

Wichtige Beispiele für Softskills, die überfachlichen Kompetenzen

Soft skills and generic skills to combat the shortage of skilled workers

Everywhere, companies are complaining about the growing shortage of skilled workers. However, there are laws and organizations in the United States that focus on promoting and improving skills and competencies among Americans. To name a few: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), National Skills Coalition, American Job Center Network. Their overall goal is to increase employment opportunities, higher wages, to promote economic growth and a stronger and more skilled workforce.

Demographic change:
Demographic change makes it necessary for those people who can work to make the best possible use of their strengths and talents. However, many people are not able to find a job, or they work in a job that does not match their skills.

Remote work and distance learning:
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, digital work and learning have become fixed components of the working world. But not everyone can join the ride. Many lack technical access and also their mindset is often oriented towards the analog world.

Shortage of skilled workers:
Nevertheless, a high percentage of companies are having difficulty filling their vacancies depending on the industry, region, and other factors.

Lifelong learning:
Everyone should have the opportunity to continuously expand their own competencies. Yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) only 12 percent of all adults participated in adult education activities in 2019.

This reflects that there are major challenges not only for companies, but for the entire system as a whole. Therefore, it is imperative to expand the skills of the working population.

Soft skills and generic skills: What is the difference?

Soft skills refer to characteristics and abilities that are necessary for dealing with other people and for working together in a team. These include communication, teamwork, time management, problem-solving and leadership.

The term generic skills, on the other hand, refers to skills that go beyond professional competencies and are necessary for the successful implementation of tasks. These include project management, presentation techniques, negotiation skills and intercultural competencies.

Why do soft skills and generic skills play such an important role today?

The world of work is changing at a speed like never before. Factual knowledge often becomes obsolete within a few years. Employees must constantly adapt to new knowledge, experience, methods and techniques. They are also required more than ever to work cooperatively as a team. The importance of soft skills and generic skills can be illustrated, for example, as follows:


Employees must be able to express themselves clearly, both in written and in oral form. Good communication ensures smooth and low-conflict teamwork.

Ability to work in a team

Most of the tasks are too large to handle on your own. For this reason, employees are increasingly working in teams. This in turn entails the need to integrate into a team, work together to achieve goals, make decisions and solve problems.

Problem-solving skills

Change is the order of the day. Employees must be able to identify and solve problems quickly and effectively.


Constant change can make employees feel overwhelmed. This leads increasingly to conflicts. Therefore, it is important for everyone to be able to control themselves and to find a way to deal with the emotional ups and downs within the team.

Companies depend on high productivity and quality of work. Necessarily, therefore, they have a high interest in quick response times to change, successful innovation, effective collaboration, and problem-solving capabilities. Distinct soft skills and generic skills pay off in terms of these requirements. They guarantee the ability of the employees to keep up with the development. Whether this adaptation effort will succeed depends centrally on the "know-how" and self-confidence of the employees. Only then will they be willing to take the necessary steps forward.

Support for continuing education

Depending on the industry, the economic outlook for 2023 is mixed. In these situations, employee development is usually cut back, which harms the company's competitiveness in the medium and long term.

The aforementioned laws and organizations may offer support in this situation.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) offers provisions to encourage partnerships between businesses and workforce development agencies. They provide funding for workforce development programs, including training and education programs for jobseekers and workers.

The National Skills Coalition works with businesses, labor groups, and policymakers to design and implement training programs that meet the needs of both workers and employers. The American Job Center Network is a network of more than 2,500 federally-funded centers across the United States that provide a variety of services to jobseekers and employers, including training and education programs for workers. These centers also offer services to businesses such as job postings, recruitment assistance, and customized training programs.

Another option to consider is taking part in a student exchange program.

The best way to find out more about programs and funding opportunities is to contact the aforementioned organizations directly. If you are interested in participating in a college exchange, you can reach out to your school's study abroad office to learn more about the application process and available resources.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor offers a range of resources on their website, This includes information on WIOA-funded programs, as well as job search tools, career exploration resources, and other employment-related information. Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), National Skills Coalition, American Job Center Network.

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