• Project on Workforce Team

The Skills Lab

About the Harvard Skills Lab


Our research at the Harvard Skills Lab focuses on the basic science of human potential. We design lab and field experiments to define and measure "soft" skills -- also called "higher order" skills -- like teamwork, adaptability and decision-making.


While soft skills are highly in-demand in the labor market -- employers routinely list soft skills such as teamwork, adaptability, resilience and problem-solving as the most sought-after attributes of employees -- the basic science of soft skills is not well understood. We know surprisingly little about how to teach and measure these skills, or how to facilitate their transfer from one context to another. This gap in knowledge also contributes to labor market inequalities as employers fall back on traditional post-secondary credentials, resulting in discrimination against women and people of color in recruitment, hiring, and promotion.


Our objective is to develop a deeper understanding of soft skills, which can improve the way soft skills are taught to adult learners, the way they are perceived and measured by employers, and ultimately contribute to a reduction in labor market inequalities.


Research


Our methodology builds on an experiment on team players, led by David Deming, and applies it to a new set of skills. The research will answer questions like: Are soft skills more important for certain kinds of jobs and tasks than others? Can these skills be taught and developed? Are these skills transmitted differently in different environments (e.g. online vs in-person)?


Our research team is currently designing and conducting a number of studies on topics including: Leadership (What are the characteristics and skills of those who consistently improve the problem-solving abilities of their teams?), Learning Transfer (How can we improve an individual's ability to transfer learning to new contexts, such as to a new job?), Teamwork and Diversity (Is team member diversity more advantageous in some tasks than others?), and Management (How can we measure management as a skill?).


In this presentation, David Deming lays out the vision for this research agenda and the social returns the learnings will generate:

Publications


Weidmann, Ben, & Deming, David. Team Players: How Social Skills Improve Group Performance. 2021.


Deming, David. The Growing Importance of Decision-Making on the Job. 2021.


Deming, David. The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market. 2017.


The Team


David Deming | Principal Investigator


David Deming is a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is the Faculty Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is the Harvard Kennedy School Lead of the Project on Workforce and serves as the PI for the Skills Lab. His research focuses broadly on the economics of skill development, education and labor markets.


Ben Weidmann | Postdoctoral Researcher


Ben Weidmann holds an MSc in research methodology from the LSE, an AM in statistics from Harvard, and a PhD from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His expertise is in causal inference and measurement, and his research focuses on field experiments in schools, and measuring soft skills in lab studies.


Erika Weisz | Postdoctoral Researcher


Erika Weisz is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and holds a PhD in Psychology from Stanford University. Her expertise is in affective science and social psychology, and her research explores empathy, cooperation, helping and intergroup relations.


Tessa Forshaw | Doctoral Researcher


Tessa Forshaw is a Doctoral Candidate in Education and a Presidential Scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her expertise is in the application of Learning Sciences and Educational Technologies to adult reskilling populations. Her most recent study explored the use of visualization technologies as a mechanism for prompting analogical reasoning in marginalized and vulnerable adult jobseekers.


Alexis Gable | Doctoral Researcher


Alexis Gable is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education studying Education Policy and Program Evaluation. Her research focuses on pathways between education and labor markets. She holds a bachelor's degree in economics and social policy from Northwestern University.


Kadeem Noray | Doctoral Researcher


Kadeem Noray is a Ph.D. Candidate at Harvard University and a graduate scholar in the Harvard Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy. Kadeem earned his M.S. in Applied Economics from Montana State University in 2017 and his B.S. in Mathematics, Economics, and Physics at Hillsdale College in 2015. His research focuses on understanding talent markets: the institutions that facilitate and provide people with human capital and career opportunities. His work also spans labor economics and public economics more broadly.


Samantha Batel Kane | Doctoral Researcher


Samantha Batel Kane is a Doctoral Student studying education policy and program evaluation and a Partnering in Education Research (PIER) fellow with the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. She holds an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School. Her expertise is in the economics of education and educational decision-making.


Stephanie Taube | Research Fellow


Stephanie Taube is a Research Fellow at the Project on Workforce and holds a Master's Degree in Public Policy from UC Berkeley and Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Her professional experience spans academia, software development, and public policy, and her research focuses on organizational psychology.