Hot Issues of Skills Development

This page provides summaries of previous and relevant research on skills development.

SKY[Skills and Knowledge for Youth] home Hot Issues of Skills Development Non-cognitive Skills in Developing Countries

Non-cognitive Skills in Developing Countries Yujiro Yamazaki
  • Skills Needed in Labour Market and Issues Related to Skills of Workers

Non-cognitive Skills in Developing Countries

Currently, non-cognitive skills are seen as one of the significant components of workers’ skill sets, along with cognitive skills and specialized skills for the labor market. As the fourth industrial revolution creates new jobs and demands more skilled workers with new technologies, people need the flexibility to develop non-cognitive skills and adapt to a changing future (World Bank, 2017). The terminology is varied, but while cognitive skills refer to literacy and numeracy (Green, 2011), the focus of non-cognitive skills is on a group of traits over multiple domains that contain behaviors and attitudes(Borghans et al. 2008). Non-cognitive skills cover a range of abilities, such as conscientiousness, perseverance, and cooperativeness (World Bank, 2017).

Studies have shown that non-cognitive skills are essential factors for achieving higher levels of education, and for increasing income and participation in the labor market. Non-cognitive skills have been shown to correlate strongly with higher income and increased wages (Heckman et al., 2006). According to Mueller and Plug (2006), the impact of non-cognitive skills on income is equally as effective as the effect of cognitive skills. It has also been pointed out that clear assessment of non-cognitive skills can help predict labor market outcomes (Borghans et al., 2008). In recent years, an element called grit (i.e., perseverance in pursuing long-term goals) has attracted research attention. It has been pointed out that educational achievement (a variable related to grit) has a stronger correlation with academic performance than IQ (Duckworth et al., 2014), and according to the World Bank’s Skills Towards Employability and Productivity (STEP) Skills measurement, grit is a key factor for empowering poor women (World Bank, 2017).

In recent years, non-cognitive skills have been addressed not only in developed countries but also in various developing countries. Mexico has introduced the Construye-T program in secondary education to enhance socio-emotional skills as a critical component of adolescent development, with a series of activities to develop socio-emotional skills for grade 10-12 students. Zambia is likewise focusing on developing non-cognitive skills by promoting a new curriculum that includes self-management, relationships with others, innovation, entrepreneurship, productivity, and psychosocial skills (Mulenga et al. 2019).

While there are such initiatives, various issues have also been pointed out. The new curriculum in Zambia is more costly than the existing one, and there is still a challenge in covering the cost of the new curriculum, including teacher training, as there has been no increase in government funding (Mulenga et al. 2019). There is also a problem with how to measure non-cognitive skills. Unlike standardized tests of cognitive skills, non-cognitive skills are challenging to measure and are strongly influenced by the culture of each country (Zhou, 2016). Addressing these challenges and promoting the development of non-cognitive skills in developing countries will continue to be a topic that receives attention.

Borghans, L., Duckworth, A. L., Heckman, J. J., and Ter Weel, B. (2008). The economics and
psychology of personality traits. Journal of Human Resources,43(4), 972-1059.
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., and Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6):1087.
Green, F. (2011). What is skill? An inter-disciplinary synthesis. Centre for Learning and Life Changes in Knowledge Economies and Societies.
Heckman, J. J. J., Stixrud, J., and Urzua, S. (2006). The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior. Journal of Labor Economics, 24(3):411–482.
Mueller, G. and Plug, E. (2006). Estimating the effect of personality on male and female earnings. Industrial & Labor Relations Review, 60(1):3–22.
Mulenga, I. M. and Kabombwe ,Y. M. (2019) A Competency-Based Curriculum for Zambian Primary and Secondary Schools: Learning from Theory and some Countries around the World. International Journal of Education and Research Vol. 7 (2): 117-130.
World Bank (2017) Non-cognitive skills: What are they and why should we care? World Bank Retrived from
Zhou, K. (2016) Non-cognitive skills: Definitions, measurement and malleability. Background paper prepared for the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all. UNESCO.