“Working” Together Begins Today

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Is it important to arrive on time for work or be trusted by your employer to do your job well? Is it professionally advantageous for you to show respect for others, make eye contact, or give a proper handshake? What about projecting a professional image on social media? These are examples of your soft skills, defined in the dictionary as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge and may include: common sense, communication, working with a team, the ability to deal with the public, and a flexible attitude.” Do you remember taking that test in high school on making eye contact or cell phone etiquette? Me neither, and smart phones were still a device of the distant future! So, the question becomes, how can we help young people learn critical soft skills in a time of increasingly impersonal interactions?

Hard skills are measurable and their presence is easy to confirm. You either know how to use a particular machine, perform a task, make a product, or you do not. You passed the certification process or you did not. Hard skills are important for success but less likely to maximize your earning potential without the complement of soft skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, are not easily measured, often making them harder to assess. However, today’s employers are looking for quality soft skills in their workforce and local employers are reporting a lack of soft skills in many candidates applying for positions within their companies. 

The National Collaborative for Workforce and Disability for Youth reported in 2011, “Soft skills are necessary for youth to succeed in education, job training, independent living, community participation, and ultimately in the workplace.” So whose responsibility is it to teach these skills? Quite directly, I’d propose its yours, mine, and theirs. 

What do THEY do? In August of last year, Lee County 4-H asked 38 CTE teachers (Career and Technical Education)  for advice on which of these skills they see as most important to teach students in middle and high school and how can we go about it? 

What can YOU do? Soft skills will be acquired during everyday experiences like quality peer to peer interaction, club meetings where members have the opportunities to take on leadership and committee responsibilities, volunteer experiences, first jobs, and in controlled experiential environments with soft skills training as a goal. Other suggestions include: becoming a teen club/group leader, offering volunteer and employment opportunities to teens, encouraging sports or other extracurricular activities, and limiting screen time.

What can I do? Lee County 4-H is currently compiling a curriculum resource to help teachers address this void in partnership with Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Ohio State University. Already all our 4-H projects, trips, clubs, and school enrichment curriculum have leadership, goal setting, career planning, relationship management, personal skill development, and team building goals at their core. We also have a curriculum for classroom use that focuses primarily on teaching about these unspoken workplace norms using the experiential learning model, because “Learning by Doing” is the most effective way for students to internalize a concept.

“Learn by Doing” is the 4-H slogan. To receive training on our new “You’re Hired!” middle school curriculum contact us at pkerley@ncsu.edu or call 919-775-5624.