The presentation will deliberate the term ‘soft skills’ and how it has been applied to many of the competencies now being prioritised by countries on their curriculum reform and/or design agendas. This term, often used to profile the capabilities of employees and also given prominence in recruitment processes, refers to skills and dispositions, many of which have also been described as 21st century skills. These skills are no longer seen as ‘soft’ or of secondary importance to other conventional and well-entrenched curriculum content, owing to changing economic, social and environmental conditions in and across countries. This background paper is part of a research program analysing the evidence for 21st century skills, how they are best learned and taught in schools, and what other countries are doing. It explores how 21st century competencies have developed in Australia and around the world. It also highlights the specific skills and dispositions that are receiving broad acceptance at national policy level as well as particular drivers behind this phenomenon.