Setting the Record Straight on Social-Emotional Learning: The Business Case for SEL

Social-Emotional Learning Blog 3

by CI Guest



Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been in the news a lot lately, and this recent surge of news about SEL has come with a good deal of misinformation. In this blog series, we’ll attempt to set the record straight on SEL by exploring the benefits and importance of SEL for young children, highlighting its recent politicization, and understanding what polling tells us about the best way to communicate with parents about the topic.


Manny Fernandez, Managing Partner at KPMG Dallas, put it succinctly: “Step into any high-quality early learning setting and you’ll find educators focusing intently on the very same social-emotional skills [as those needed in the workplace]. They’re exactly what I’ve looked for as a mentor to hundreds of people on our team at KPMG. I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t succeed here without those skills.”

Companies continue to face unprecedented challenges in hiring workers in various industries and the resulting labor shortage has reduced overall sales revenue across the country by over $700 billion. Part of the challenge is likely related to what’s been called a “soft skills” gap in which employers have a hard time finding qualified applicants who have essential workplace skills such as teamwork, collaboration, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication.

2017 poll makes clear that business leaders are paying growing attention to the importance of hiring employees with adequate social-emotional skills. Zogby Analytics was commissioned by Council for a Strong America – ReadyNation to survey approximately 300 business leaders with over 100 employees. The largest percentage of respondents (42 percent) were leading businesses that employed over 1,000 workers. The survey findings reveal just how important strong social skills are for succeeding in the modern workplace.

Consider the fact that 62 percent of business leaders experience more difficulty finding job candidates with adequate social-emotional skills than candidates with the right technical skills (only ten percent of leaders found it more difficult to find candidates with the right technical skills while 28 percent said they had an equal amount of difficulty in hiring for technical skills and social-emotional skills). Additionally, 88 percent of leaders agreed that there will be a growing need for strong social-emotional skills among employees in the future. Ninety percent of business leaders surveyed believe (rightly) that it’s more difficult to develop those skills in adults entering the workforce than it is to develop them in childhood. Given these stats, it’s no big surprise that almost 90 percent of business leaders signaled their support for public investment in early education as a way to help young children acquire strong social-emotional skills.

In the first blog post of this series, we pointed out a few reasons why, when done right, teaching social-emotional skills to young children can be beneficial. To recap, we know that children who learn to understand and manage their emotions, develop healthy interpersonal relationships, and practice social problem solving have increased success in school and life. We also know that these sorts of skills tend to remain malleable for longer periods of time than cognitive skills, such as a child’s academic ability in math and literacy. And a study published in 2015 shows just how important it is to develop strong social-emotional skills in young children to ensure that they’re eventually able to successfully enter the workforce. Specifically, the researchers found that every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten was associated with the child being twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood and almost 50 percent more likely to have a full-time job by the age of 25. Every one-point decrease in the child’s kindergarten social competence score was associated with a 67 percent higher chance of being arrested by early adulthood and a 64 percent higher chance of spending time in juvenile detention.

There’s sometimes some understandable discomfort around making a business or economic case for teaching certain skills to young children. After all, most people, including myself, don’t decide to teach early childhood education because they’re passionate about helping to produce individuals who will make effective and efficient employees many years down the road. But my recent interview with Adam Tyner of the Fordham Institute helped convince me that the specific language we use around SEL matters, especially when attempting to appeal to a more conservative audience.

Just as early childhood advocates frequently cite the economic case for early learning, proponents of SEL shouldn’t shy away from making the case that teaching social-emotional skills to young children makes good business sense. There are a lot of important reasons for teaching these skills starting at a young age and the fact that these skills will make it easier down the road for students to succeed in the workplace is a fact worth highlighting.

In the next blog post in this series, we’ll get a teacher’s perspective on the importance of teaching social-emotional skills to young children and how developing these skills throughout the school year can make a profound difference in children’s school experiences.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0). It is attributed to Aaron Loewenberg. The original version can be found here.

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