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Are Social-Emotional Skills the Foundation of Career Success?

In a survey of more than 700 employers in the United States conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace, half of them said they are struggling to fill job vacancies within their company. Despite the fact that applicants have the academic qualifications and technical skills needed, they’re missing social-emotional skills like adaptability, problem-solving,  and communication.

With this in mind, it’s clear that the US’s competitiveness in the global economy depends on more than academic qualifications, technical, and cognitive skills. Today, employers need teams with adequate social-emotional skills. And, the only way for students to acquire these skills is if they’re taught them- just as they would learn maths, English, or any other academic subject. Luckily, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is making its way into the curriculum. Let’s have a closer look...

What Is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, is a process that allows both children and adults to learn the skills they need to understand and manage emotions. By doing so, they can set and accomplish goals, have positive relationships, make positive decisions, and feel and show emotions for others. According to CASEL, there are 5 core SEL competencies. These include:

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-management

  • Responsible decision making

  • Relationship skills

  • Social awareness

So, we know why SEL is important for personal development, but how does it affect our children’s career success?


Despite growing proof that test scores are no longer the most important factor when it comes to career success, studies show that these scores still drive the admissions process at most educational institutions. Today, there are now more than 1,000 schools across the country that are test-optional, but the majority of colleges still believe that test scores are very important.

The Shift Towards Social-Emotional Learning and Development

SEL programs show immediate results in improving mental health and social skills. But, they also continue to benefit students for years later according to studies. CASEL joined with other researchers to conduct a meta-analysis of more than 200 social and emotional learning programs. They then assessed the results 6 months to 18 years after the program ended.

According to the results, students who took part in SEL programs performed an average of 13% better academically. Additionally, conduct problems, drug use, emotional distress were lower in students who took part in SEL programs. They also had a more positive attitude towards themselves and others.

With SEL programs proving that they can help improve child behavior, academic achievement, and attitudes towards school and learning, more and more of them are being implemented across the country and in the rest of the world. Take our near-peer model we’ve been using for the best part of a decade as an example. We leverage high school mentors and college student teaching fellows to drive scholar outcomes and produce a chain of positive, long-term social and economic impacts.

Test Scores and Career Success

As of now, we know that employers are finding it increasingly difficult to hire the right candidates due to a lack of social-emotional skills. We also know that SEL programs have proven to improve academic learning among children. So, should we still be putting so much focus on test scores? More importantly, are these scores still relevant to career success?

Despite growing proof that test scores are no longer the most important factor when it comes to career success, studies show that these scores still drive the admissions process at most educational institutions. Today, there are now more than 1,000 schools across the country that are test-optional, but the majority of colleges still believe that test scores are very important.

With the above in mind, there is a huge divide between what employers want and what educational institutions are providing.

Social-Emotional Skills and Career Success

According to a report from ACTE, CTE, and P21, employers are looking for candidates with skills in the 4 Cs. This means they want employees with communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative and innovative problem-solving skills. Not only this, surveys in the United States show that CEOs and manufacturers are having more trouble finding workers with problem-solving skills specifically.

In addition to a high demand for employees with social-emotional skills, there is now evidence that SEL also leads to economic gains. While most research on SEL programs focuses on the social-emotional outcomes, the Seattle Social Development Project reported that SEL programs could have a return-on-investment of more than $2,500 per participant. Other programs estimated a return-on-investment of approximately $1,300, $11 per dollar invested, and $18 per dollar invested.

So, with more and more employers looking for candidates with social-emotional skills, would it not make more sense to make SEL a more active part of today’s education system? The simple answer is yes.

Helping Our Children Achieve Career Success

Today, for children to achieve career success, educational policymakers need to learn the importance and connection between SEL and employability. We also need to see more members of the business community speaking out in support of teaching SEL in schools.

But, one of the simplest ways to help our children achieve career success is to implement new programs into their schools starting today. By working with a team of experts who have successful experience implementing tried and tested programs, you’ll be able to equip your students with the skills they need to achieve their professional goals.