“Twenty-First-Century Skills”, “Employability skills”, “Generic and Core skills” “Future skills” or “Soft and Hard skills” are some of the wide range of terminology used in the literature to refer to skills.

Sometimes, the concepts “Skill” and “Competence” are used interchangeably adding confusion to the conceptualization of what competences and what skills are more important to develop in each case.

This guidelines adopts a practical approach, after the participation of stakeholders from different countries that mostly refer to soft and hard skills.

So, we will talk about Soft and Hard skills, in order to simplify the analysis of our practices. Despite this “easy” solution to the complexity of the involved concepts, we recommend going in depth, consulting for example some chapters of the “Handbook of Vocational Education and Training” (McGrath et. al, 2019).

Before focusing on the topics of this section, we will also share briefly a new perspective of skills conceptualization, which will be integrated through the different of the project D-WBL in which this guidelines is developed:

Future Skills are competences that allow individuals to solve complex problems in highly emergent contexts of action in a self-organized way and enable them to act (successfully). They are based on cognitive, motivational, volitional and social resources, are value-based and can be acquired in a learning process and embedded in the discourse around the goal of (higher) education and employability as the goal of any educational process.

Two emerging understandings and usual applications of the term Future Skills:

  • additive-enrichment-oriented comprehension that understands Future Skills as additional components for educational processes that would enrich actual knowledge transfer processes in order to qualify students for future fields of activity and
  • emphasises the importance of digital competences or so-called soft skills such as communication or presentation skills.


The development of soft skills is essential in a laboral world in constant change and interaction. The ability to work in a team, communication, or creativity are some of the learning outcomes that students must acquire. As Thianthai, & Sutamchai, K. (2022) states:

“Soft skills … are also crucial for high-tech domain workers, both in terms of their professional success and for personal fulfillment (PwC EU Services, 2020; Cinque et al., 2021)…These types of skills are more related to individual patterns of behavior, attitudes, traits, and personality that are not directly related to individuals’ knowledge and not directly connected to a specific task (Cimatti, 2016)… For example, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, self-motivation, creativity, willingness to learn, emotional intelligence, social ethics skills, as well as the ability to work with people of different backgrounds (Balcar, 2016; Shmatko and Volkova, 2020).

The stakeholders involved in the D-WBL project confirm the importance of acquiring this type of skills:

Really, throughout my internships, I picked up valuable skills needed for my future career. I learned how to prioritize properly, how to confidently speak up and be part of a discussion. Most importantly, I learned how to collaborate with a team, which will not only help me in my professional life but also in life outside of work (PANKO Student).


You must have a high degree of independence and problem-solving skills, and I think that in terms of social competences, you must be able to work with the person with whom you are doing the training (IPOSZ Director).


They learn in a challenging system. That enhances motivation and curiosity, and when they manage to beat a challenge, they feel really good with the work they’ve done. Most of the challenges require creativity, methodic analysis and critical thinking. Sometimes they do it in groups, so they also develop skills for group work

(UOC Teacher).


  • The analyzed practice integrates the development of at least two of the soft skills included in table XXX

table XXX soft skills


Problem solving



Strategic thinking

Critical thinking


Learning mindset




Rainsbury et al. (2002) defines hard skills as skills that are related to technical aspects for carrying out several tasks at work (Putra et al, 2020).

Hard skills are acquired through formal education and training programs, including college, apprenticeships, short-term training classes, online courses, and certification programs, as well as on-the-job training.

Due this kind of skills are closely related to specific tasks, each practice in VET must define them according to the course topics.

We can just take two examples from the literature to better clarify what Hard Skills are:


Hard skills tend to be embodied in formal acquired qualifications and they are usually relatively easy to train for and measure (Balcar, 2016). For example, English grammar, accounting, programming, welding, robot operating systems, and the ability to regulate and control a machine, etc. (Thianthai and Sutamchai, 2022)


The Department of Homeland Security’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) developed a Cybersecurity Workforce Framework (Newhouse et al., 2016) to provide a base set of work roles for the cyber workforce…This collection includes nine work-role categories, 31 specialty areas, and over 1000 types of knowledge, skills, and abilities…such as: “identifies, analyzes, and mitigates threats to internal information technology (IT) systems and/or network”. (Dawson and Thompson, 2018)


And one more from the stakeholders involved in the D-WBL project:

Digital skills, for example Building Information Modelling, this will probably be the case, so we should anticipate this, so that we can prepare ourselves for this and pass on this knowledge, because those who are already familiar with these tools at some level will have a huge advantage in the labour market. Even those who have not been introduced to these tools and who have not left school and should learn them somewhere out there, will be at a huge disadvantage because they are not familiar with them (IPOSZ Teacher).


  • The analyzed practice integrates the development of at least two of the most relevant hard skills related to the specific topic/task to perform.


Literature and D-WBL stakeholders agree that a balance between soft and hard skills must be promoted in VET practices. The enhancement and integration of both kinds of skills is fostered by working them in an integrated way.

The importance of combining both hard and soft skills together has, for some time now, been demonstrated as a vital component for professional competence (Kauffeld, Grote & Frieling,2003). This entails an indissociable interdependence of these competences for the successful performance of future informatics engineers (Torres, 2020).


I must admit that it is important that students also have the opportunity to develop general skills and competences covering ‘whole professions’ and ensuring their general employability in view of future job opportunities. Hence, it is necessary to strike the right balance between the company-specific skill needs of the employer and the general employability of the students (PANKO Director).


  • The analyzed practice integrates both hard and soft skills in a balanced way.


The development of Digital Competence is certainly one of the milestones of D-WBL. It is part of the necessary knowledge to perform D-WBL, while it is part of the knowledge to acquire or improve in VET.

The complexity of Digital Competence (DC) can be found in the definition done by Ferrari (2012) while she was developing the DigComp framework:

“The set of knowledge, skills, attitudes (thus including abilities, strategies, values and awareness) that are required when using ICT and digital media to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate;manage information; collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively, efficiently,appropriately, critically, creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation,learning, socializing, consuming, and empowerment”.

We take DigComp.Edu as a competence framework to choose DC in VET education, widely adapted and due the EU context of D-WBL project, choosing some of the competences that this framework defines, emerging from the D-WBL stakeholders contribution.

To provide space for reflection and practical application, Competence Areas and Competences from the DigCompEdu framework will be collaboratively selected for this training and associated with each activity. The areas of DigCompEdu that will be considered are the following:

  • The analyzed practice integrates at least two subcompetences from Digital Competence included in the european framework DigCompEdu.


Where should we focus when choosing the skills to acquire?

In those skills that are required to do a specific task in the company?

In skills that can be transferred to other work environments?

In those that will help the student’s personal growth? Can they be integratedly developed together?

The debate is open and complex, for example with “tensions that can emerge between training design intentions and training delivery outcomes when training delivery is marketised” (Gekara and Snell, 2018).


Participants in the D-WBL project express also these different points of view that can be summarized in:

I must admit that the purpose of VET study programmes is to develop professional, social and personal competence. These are important prerequisites for employability, identity formation and social integration. (PANKO Administration)


The local context is also a determinant factor when we design practices, because each case has to respond, ideally, to the needs of all the people involved. So, we can try to design practices to respond to all these requirements.

  • The analyzed practice integrates specific workplace, employability and education focused skills