Want to learn how to learn any skill?

Image: The step of self-efficacy ("I want to do it") on the skills learning staircase. Credits: YES! Young Entrepreneurs Succeed

Most common employment and entrepreneurship interventions targeting NEETs (including skills training courses, field-specific training, counseling or mentoring, and entrepreneurial education) seem to rely upon Social Cognitive Theory introduced as the Social Learning Theory by behavioral psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1960s. The theory revolves around the concept of “self-efficacy.” In general terms, Bandura defined self-efficacy as one’s belief about the ability to execute a specific task. Because self-efficacy beliefs “determine how much effort people will expend and how long they will persist in the face of obstacles and aversive experience,” they have proven to be a reliable outcome measure when trying to predict an individual’s behavior in learning any skill.1

Because of its critical importance in organizing and guiding people’s behaviors, self-efficacy should be a must-have outcome when measuring the success of interventions for NEETs. Self-efficacy also provides a robust justification for the implementation of activities such as training courses and mentoring schemes. In fact, Bandura and many other scholars after him provided evidence that self-efficacy can be developed through four primary sources of influence:

  • Mastery experiences: mastering skills through hands-on experience
  • Vicarious experiences: observing others achieve success
  • Verbal persuasion: verbal encouragement from others
  • Positive emotional and physiological states: reduction of stress and other negative emotions

Being aware of the research literature at the base of Social Learning Theory could help design interventions that specifically draw upon one or more self-efficacy sources. For example, part of the organizations involved in the project YES! Young Entrepreneurs Succeed developed a mentoring program, where experienced entrepreneurs and professionals share their experience for a year as volunteers, intending to help young entrepreneurs to build their competencies for their business consolidation and growth. This type of intervention uses vicarious learning and verbal persuasion to support young aspiring entrepreneurs in achieving their goals.

Because with high levels of self-efficacy, people are more willing to undertake challenges and sustain their behaviors despite setbacks, self-efficacy is often seen as a prerequisite for implementing a task (for example, learning a new skill). Specifically, self-efficacy may be considered “a multiplier, a skill that makes all other skills possible to learn and master.”2

Giulia Parola, Munich Business School

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