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 Are cognitive and non-cognitive skills enough?

Are cognitive and non-cognitive skills enough? Aya Mizutani
  • Skills Needed in Labour Market and Issues Related to Skills of Workers

In recent years, the importance of cognitive as well as non-cognitive skills has been widely discussed. It has been demonstrated in a large body of literature that these two skills have impacts on and shape various aspects of an individual’s life (Heckman & Rubinstein, 2001; Duckworth, et al., 2007).

According to the Japan Institute for Lifelong Learning, non-cognitive skills can be classified into ability-based elements such as problem-solving and critical thinking skills, personality and temperament-based elements such as cooperativeness, communication skills, and creativity, and value-based elements such as ethics and normative awareness. It is said that the individual skills within these elements are gradually nurtured through the training of basic skills from early childhood, and developed as individual skills as shown in the report published by the above institute (Japan Institute for Lifelong Learning, 2018).

It is generally believed that these skills emerge with some degree of consistency in different contexts, which is why various measurement tools (questionnaires) have been developed for individual skills. It is true that personalities and attitudes show consistency across various situations to some extent, but there are some other elements that have impacts on how much they want to put their efforts into a specific task or activity.

For example, an individual’s interest, motivation, drive, and desire may vary greatly depending on the task/activity and situation. Can we say that these are non-cognitive skills? I found the term “self-motivation skill” in English, which is a skill to motivate oneself in a situation (Zimmerman, Bandura & Martinez 1992), but in general, it seems to be something more fundamental than a skill.

And therefore, these interests, motivations, and desires are thought to have both short and long-term effects on the skills and abilities of the individuals. Here, short-term means, for example, that the performance of an employee with the same skills in a certain task will differ depending on the level of interest while long-term means that people who are interested in a certain activity will work harder to learn and therefore will be more competent in such activity than those who are not interested in it.

In this light, it seems inadequate to measure individual performance by including only non-cognitive or cognitive abilities in a model. Rather, we may need to include the interaction of context-dependent characteristics with cognitive and non-cognitive skills in the analysis since the interests and motivations mentioned earlier affect the way an individual performs in a given situation.



  • Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.
  • Heckman, James & Rubinstein, Yona. (2001). The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program. American Economic Review. 91. 145-149. 10.1257/aer.91.2.145.
  • Zimmerman, Barry & Bandura, Albert & Martinez-Pons, Manuel. (1992). Self-Motivation for Academic Attainment: The Role of Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Personal Goal Setting. American Educational Research Journal. 29. 663-676. 10.3102/00028312029003663.
  • 日本生涯学習総合研究所(2018).「「非認知能力」の概念に関する考察(I)」