Soft skills is a term often associated with a person's Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), the collection of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement technical skills which are the occupational proficiencies required for a specific job or activity. Soft skills are related to feelings, emotions, and insights, and provide an important complement to technical skills.
Soft skills are an important part of an individual’s contribution to the success of an organization. Organizations that train their staff to use these skills are generally more successful. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to technical skills.
The soft skills taught through Correctional Industries (CI) programs go hand in hand with post-release employability. The Council of State Government’s National Reentry Resource Center clearly shows a link between employment and reduction in recidivism. The ability to gain and retain employment is an important factor in reducing recidivism, a significant percentage of formerly incarcerated individuals rearrested are unemployed at time of re-arrest. An unemployed formerly incarcerated individual is far more likely to return to prison than an employed formerly incarcerated individual.
CI programs benefit from incarcerated individuals participating in soft skills programs. As incarcerated individuals learn these soft skills, which are necessary to excel in a post-release work environment, there is also a positive impact realized in their CI work assignment and institutional behavior. Many studies have shown results similar to the BOP study which showed incarcerated individuals who participate in CI have a lower rate of institution misconduct in prison. Additionally, the BOP study shows prisoners with a lower rate of misconduct in prison have a lower recidivism rate.
There are many soft skills that are valued by employers. These include, but are not limited to:
- Basic writing, grammar and math skills
- Personal integrity
- Positive work ethic
- Ability to get along well with others
- Willingness to learn
- Team skills
- Common sense
- Eye contact
- Critical thinking skills
- Good personal appearance
- Ability to follow rules
- Willingness to be accountable
- Positive attitude
- Awareness of how business works
- Staying on the job until it is finished
- Ability to work without close supervision
- Ability to read and follow instructions
- Ability to listen
- Commitment to continued training and learning
- Good attendance
- Work Experience
- Ability to relate to co-workers in a close environment
- Willingness to take instruction and responsibility
- Willingness to go beyond the traditional 8-hour day
1. Conduct job readiness assessments
Where possible, CIs should utilize job readiness assessments to inform the incarcerated individual, supervisor and the instructors of the individual’s areas for growth and improvement. Incarcerated individuals should be involved in career development including career and aptitude assessments, career planning, and understand how to get career information and support. These assessments can help identify what soft skills training is needed.
2. Collaborate to maximize soft skills training
Correctional Industries should work with other DOC departments in a collaborative way to support and reinforce skill attainment. Integrated programs can be developed that address soft skills in certificate-based programs by working with correctional education/vocational training. Topics include professional communication, interviewing skills and resume writing. Partner with case management, mental health, chemical dependency and other programming. Collaborate wherever possible to maximize resources and outcomes.
3. Implement a soft skills component
A soft skills component should be a required part of a certificate-based program. Components can be tailored to the individual shop or designed for the CI program. These programs and their components can be developed in-house or “off the shelf” such as Habits of Mind or Thinking for a Change.
4. Develop a reinforcement system for completion of soft skills training
Reward incarcerated individuals for the completion of soft skills training and develop systems which reinforce the acquired skills. For CIs that have graduated pay plans, completion of soft skills training and appropriate integration of the skills can be components required for advancement to higher levels.
5. Develop partnerships
Soft skills programs support the development of personal responsibility that is highly valued by employers. CIs should develop partnerships that reinforce the significance of soft skills training. These include potential employers, community-based and non-profit organizations such as Dress for Success, YWCA, etc.
6. Provide key elements of soft skills training to all staff
All staff should receive soft skills training and model the principles of this training. Training for staff should be relevant, comprehensive and ongoing with structured follow up. CIs can find appropriate programs on various websites such as NIC and NCIA.
7. Provide professional development for lead staff
CIs should ensure identified staff are trained in programs such as NIC’s Evidence-Based Workforce Training Series. This series consists of Employment Retention: Principles and Practices as well as Employment Retention: Criminal Justice System. These programs offer a wide perspective on the skills and attitudes an incarcerated individual must have to be successful as they transition to the community and the world of work.
- Pre and Post testing and coaching
- Staff training
- Conduct reports
- National Correctional Industries Association
- National Institute of Corrections
- Council of State Governments - National Reentry Resource Center
- International Labour Office (ILO) Skills for Employment Policy Brief
- Bradberry, Travis, and Greaves, Jean. Emotional Intelligence 2.0
- Cissner, Amanda B. and Puffett, Nora K. (2006). Do Batterer Program Length or Approach Affect
- Completion Rate or Re-Arrest Rates: A Comparison of Outcomes between Defendants Sentenced to Two Batterer Programs in Brooklyn. Center for Court Innovation.
- Office of Justice Programs. 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014). U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice. www.ojp.gov/
- The Conference Board. Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic
- Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce .
- Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Wisconsin’s Employability Skills Certificate
- Implementation Guide https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/cte/pdf/esimpleguide.pdf
Identify tools currently being used and implement available certificate based programs that address soft skills. This can be done by investigating what other states are doing and by examining National Institute of Corrections’ programs such as:
- NIC Evidence-Based Workforce Training Series
- Motivational Interviewing Training
- Thinking for a Change Training
- Career Recourse Centers (CRC)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Programs
Habits of Mind(HOM), (Costa and Kallick, 2000)
Suggest using integration models, such as including staff performance objectives for facilitating soft skills development for incarcerated individuals