Implement Certificate-Based Soft Skills Training

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Soft skills is a term often associated with a person's “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient),  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. They are related to feelings, emotions, insights and (some would say) an 'inner knowing': i.e. they provide an important complement to 'hard skills'.

Soft skills are characteristics that are behavioral in nature and include factors such as attitude, work ethic, critical thinking, flexibility and the desire to learn and be trained. Soft Skills include: a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, communication skills, decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, social skills, time management, flexibility/adaptability, capability to accept and learn from criticism, get along with others and understand team concepts.


Roughly 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year.  According to a Bureau of Justice Assistance study of 15 States, more than two-thirds of state prisoners released from incarceration were re-arrested and more than half returned to prison within three years. 

The 2006 report Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century US Workforcereveals that while the three "R's" (reading, writing, and arithmetic) are still fundamental to every employee's ability to do the job, employers view "soft" skills as even more important to work readiness.

A person's soft skill EQ is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of an organization. Particularly those organizations dealing with customers face-to-face are generally more successful, if they train their staff to use these skills. Screening or training for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment.  For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications.

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
Courtesy Positive work ethic
Honesty Ability to get along well with others
Reliability Willingness to learn
Team skills Common sense
Eye contact Critical thinking skills
Cooperation Punctual
Adaptability Good personal appearance
Ability to follow rules Self-directed
Willingness to be accountable Positive attitude
Awareness of how business works Dependability
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
Energetic 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  

The soft skills taught through Correctional Industries programs go hand-in-hand with post-incarceration employability. Council of State Government’s National Reentry Resource Center clearly shows a link between employment and reduction in recidivism. Ex-offenders’ ability to gain and retain employment is an important factor in reducing recidivism as 85% - 89% of ex-offenders rearrested are unemployed at time of re-arrest. An unemployed ex-offender is three times more likely to return to prison than an employed ex-offender. A 1996 study in New York State showed that 89 percent of parole and probation violators were unemployed at the time of re-arrest. (Source: Texas Department of Justice, 1990 and State of New York Department of Labor, 1996)

Correctional Industries will benefit from offenders participating in soft skills programs. As offenders learn these soft skills, which are necessary to excel in a post-release work environment, there will also be a positive impact realized in their CI work assignment and institutional behavior. Many studies have shown results similar to the BOP study which showed offenders 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.

Of all the work skills offenders learn, soft skills are the most transferable skills.


  1. Collaborate to maximize soft skills training.

    Correctional Industries should work with other departments in a collaborative way to support and reinforce skill attainment. Consider partnering with mental health, chemical dependency, education and other programming. Collaborate wherever possible to maximize resources and outcomes.

  2. 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.

  3. Conduct job readiness assessments.

    Where possible, Correctional Industries should utilize job readiness assessments to inform the offender, supervisor and the instructors of the individual’s areas for growth and improvement. Offenders should be involved in career development including career and aptitude assessments, career planning, and understand how to get career information and support.

  4. Collaborate with case management and correctional education/vocational training.

    Integrated programs can be developed that address soft skills in certificate-based programs by working with case management and correctional education/vocational training. This may include topics such as professional communication, interviewing skills and resume writing.

  5. Develop a reinforcement system for completion of soft skills training.

    Reward offenders 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 the higher paying levels.

  6. Develop partnerships.

    Soft skills programs support the development of personal responsibility that is highly valued by employers. Correctional Industries 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.

  7. Provide professional development for lead staff.

    Correctional Industries should ensure identified staff are trained in programs such as NIC’s Offender Employment Specialist (OES), Offender Workforce Development Specialists (OWDS) and Employment Retention: Principles and Practices, and Offender Employment Retention Specialist Training (OERS). These programs offer a wide perspective on the skills and attitudes an offender must have to be successful as they transition to the community and the world of work.

  8. Provide key elements of soft skills training to all staff.

    Training for staff should be relevant, comprehensive and ongoing with structured follow up. Correctional Industries can find appropriate programs on various websites such as NIC and NCIA.

  9. Obtain compliance verification in conjunction with your Department of Corrections or through external sources.
    • Workforce Development Assessments
    • ACA Audits
    • Other assessments, i.e. education



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.

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 Certficate Implementation Guide.

National Correctional Industries Association
National Institute of Corrections
Council of State Governments
International Labour Office (ILO) Skills for Employment Policy Brief


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:

  • Employer-Driven Offender Employment Model and Tool Kit
  • Offender Employment Specialist Training
  • Offender Workforce Development Specialist Training
  • 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)

Point Blank is a UNICOR program that teaches the value of soft skills.

Collaborate with other departments.

Suggest using integration models, such as including staff performance objectives for facilitating offender soft skills development.

CI Models with Data to Support Success

Indiana - Career Development Training (Based on NIC’s Career Resource Center) where offenders learn about careers, cognitive based approach to career/life planning resulting in long-term career plan development. Florida similarly has implemented NIC’s based Career Recourse Centers.

Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) and state recidivism studies show a reduction in recidivism for those offenders who participate in CI programming. FBOP’s Prep Study shows ex-offenders who worked in UNICOR are 24% less likely to recidivate (NCIA website).

Recidivism studies in fifteen states show reduced recidivism for offenders who participate in correctional industries – AZ, CA, CO, FL, ID, IA, LA, MD, MN, MT, NC, OK, TN, VT, WA. These can be found on the NCIA website.


  • Pre and Post testing and coaching
  • Staff training
    Conduct reports