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October 11, 2019
By Zuri Haley-Robbins, Catherine Honeyman, and Katya Murillo
What does it take to build the soft skills young people need? Common sense suggests that most soft skills — things like communication, social skills, empathy, and even having a positive belief about yourself — must be built through interaction with other people. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, includes experiential learning and role modeling among its six guiding principles for building soft skills.
But is in-person training our only option? World Learning dove into Google Play’s app store with this question in mind, investigating dozens of free smartphone apps geared to building soft skills and employability skills to see if these might present a viable alternative. Though the majority of soft skills apps are still stuck in the text-only age, we specifically focused on interactive apps that provide a fun and and experiential approach to building soft skills. Here are our 10 favorites, organized by the types of objectives that workforce development programs often pursue.
Apps for Career Exploration
Developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Career OneStop offers tools for career exploration and the job search. You can start by looking up a specific job or job type, which leads to more details including training, certifications, growth outlook, salary, and more. You can also browse career fields or use the interest profiler and skills matcher tools to find occupations that suit you. The data is limited to the U.S. labor market but there is a lot of other information that could be useful to a global audience.
2. Job Scout
Similar to Career OneStop but with a more graphical interface, Job Scout focuses on assessing your interests and potential career pathways. Take quizzes to find out which jobs or fields are right for you, then learn more about what a career in that field might look like through on-the-job videos and other information.
Apps for Interview Preparation
This virtual reality (VR) app is intended to help you practice public speaking — whether in front of an interviewer, a few dozen people in a conference room, or even a few hundred in an assembly hall — giving you the feeling you are really in the room together. This app, which requires any kind of VR headset, also has a great collection of videos that provide advice and important lessons concerning speaking and using your voice.
Bonus: If you like Virtual Speech, a similar app called Competencies poses real interview questions in a variety of fields and records your practice responses for your later review.
Another app, from the innovative company SimCoach Games, takes more of a role play perspective on interview preparation. In Get Prepared!, you research your potential employer, update and print your resume, pick an outfit, and more. Your time must be used wisely to prepare and make it to your interview on time.
If you make it, try out Get Hired! next, also from the SimCoach Games JobPro series. Now at your interview, you must avoid losing composure and getting distracted, pay attention to your body language, and answer questions to the best of your ability. Like the other JobPro apps, the game lets you know how you did at the end.
Apps for Success on the Job
Mobile Soft Skills stands out from other job search apps with its collection of downloadable guides and videos that address success on the job, including topics like ethical decision-making. Interactive quizzes at the end test your understanding of each subject. The app has a slight problem with button inputs and a long registration process, but offers users a large quantity of information. This app was created by USAID Afghanistan’s University Support and Workforce Development Program and is available in English, Dari, and Pashto.
Unlike JobPro’s interview preparation games above, JobPro: My Life focuses more on work-life balance. Using a game format, it puts to the test the players ability to balance their work and personal life. It does a good job showing how small decisions — like whether to socialize with friends or get some exercise instead of working all the time — can help our days and lives run more smoothly.
Apps for Entrepreneurship
If your program is more focused on entrepreneurship, games like Business Inc 3D loosely simulate running a start-up business. The responsibilities put upon the player include managing employees, planning and executing projects, purchasing office equipment, chasing competitors, and managing your company’s financials. This game is simple but effective, if sometimes a bit repetitive.
Apps for Intrapersonal Skills
One of the few narrative-based apps we reviewed, I Meet Myself might be better described as “salve for the soul.” Four different story chapters lead you to ask and answer questions about yourself in an increasingly searching and introspective way. Offering these answers can help reveal and cement personal beliefs, desires, and goals, developing intrapersonal and emotional skills along the way. It’s a path of self-discovery and self-actualization as you’re encouraged to be patient and gentle with yourself.
Bonus: Free Happiness aims to help to increase contentment and resilience, using devices like smile reminders, gratefulness lists, and emotion ratings to help develop an individual’s emotional intelligence. And Habit Guru could be adapted to help you reach any soft skills goal that depends on developing new behaviors. It’s as simple as listing the habit you’d like to develop — or the one you want to break — and responding to reminders to help you keep track of your successes.
Apps for Higher-Order Thinking
10. Alt G
We also looked into apps that promote higher-order thinking, including critical thinking and problem solving, as these too are important skills in the workplace. Alt G is a lateral thinking app that encourages people to find solutions that are out of the box, using the phone’s features like voice recognition and handwriting recognition as part of the puzzle.
Bonus: Brain It On is another puzzle game that starts by asking you to reach a deceptively simple goal: get an item into a container and Reasoning Games offers a collection of brainteasers and puzzle games that demand attention to detail or problem-solving skills — just a few of the large collection of games focusing on mental skills.
Overall, the experiential soft skills apps we found show a lot of promise for soft skills development, but there is still a long way to go. In particular, we’d like to see more options for building communication, conflict management, and social skills. Some familiar apps like LinkedIn Learning, SkillShare, and SkillSoft tackle these skills but they require payment for full access and rely almost exclusively on video content. We’re looking forward to seeing new and innovative apps in these areas!