Youthentity column: Don’t undercut the value of general employability skills
At a recent meeting of hospitality industry representatives, I posed the question “What are you looking for in new employees and how can Youthentity help through our programming?” Surprisingly, virtually everyone in attendance began speaking at once: “teach them integrity,” “eye contact,” “a proper handshake,” “communication,” “being on-time” — all of which are general employability skills and attitudes or “soft skills”.
Job descriptions are peppered with terms such as “self-starter,” “team player” or “detail-oriented” — all soft skills. Often undervalued by young job seekers, advanced soft skills will provide a significant edge and help them gain career equity. While employers expect to teach and develop their employees on technical aspects, they need to hire people with baseline employability skills and attitudes. But how can we expect kids to meet expectations if we don’t inform and show them? While not always popular, it isn’t unusual for me to provide feedback to a student from an employer’s perspective. In fact, I try to convey to young people that getting the job is the easy part; earning the privilege to keep it is more difficult.
What are these sought-after soft skills and why do they matter? Our Career Academy program requires students to participate in YE University, an online platform that educates them on interviewing skills, appropriate workplace communication, handling conflict, and even addresses basics such as hygiene and proper dress. We introduce our students to the employability skills that provide the foundation for success, including:
1. Collaboration. The ability to work with others is critical, including communication, listening to each team member and respect for others’ opinions and methods.
2. Self-management and organization. The ability to manage time, set deadlines and be self-directed is one of the most valued qualities in an employee – and it often takes years of practice to master.
3. Initiative. Looking for things that need to be done and doing them without instruction while improving efficiencies.
4. Problem-solving. Also known as critical thinking. Adaptability — using new information to pivot when necessary — also applies here. Hands-on learning models (upon which all YE programs are based) especially teach quick, independent thinking.
5. Communication. Kids especially love to text; but often, texting is not an appropriate method of communication in the workplace. Certain situations require a phone call instead of an email, and every situation calls for clarity and follow-up.
How can we introduce young people to these concepts early enough to make a positive impact?
Part-time jobs. Jobs can be extremely formative in helping high school students gain experience. Learning early to manage paychecks and spend wisely is a bonus!
Volunteer work. Accountability and showing up for others teaches kids that it feels good to give without the expectation of getting something in return. And often, what they do receive is the feeling of being purposeful in one’s community.
Extra-curricular activities and clubs. Theatre, dance, sports, debate, and others give students the experience of being accountable to themselves and others while producing results.
Development programs such as Youthentity’s Career Academy can also show extra initiative — they teach the importance of reaching outside of one’s immediate network and circle of comfort to facilitate personal growth.
At the end of the day, employers need employees to exhibit mastery of these soft skills. An employee who can effectively communicate, work with others, and deploy understanding and clarity in daily communications is an employee who is contributing to the company’s mission and ultimately, its longevity and success. By providing career exposure and experience early on, we’re helping to ensure their successful futures, job security, and happiness.
Kirsten Petre McDaniel is the founder and executive director for Youthentity.
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