Get good grades, go to college, get a good job. That’s the path we, as parents, think our children need to adhere to for success in their career. Think again.
Sure, of course, good grades are important but consider for a moment the intangibles that might be the differentiators when a company is choosing to hire.
Think soft skills. Maybe it’s a trendy buzzword. But I do know we heard it from every single panelist at a recent discussion on Frisco’s Future Workforce.
Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, business leaders from Boeing Global Services, Bank of America and Gearbox, along with leaders in education from the University of North Texas, Frisco Independent School District, Collin College, and Leadership Prep School, sat down with Roxann Griffith of the US Department of Labor.
The panel discussed what businesses are looking for as they hire and what educators are doing to prepare students as they enter the workforce.
The discussion appropriately took place at Leadership Prep School in Frisco, who will celebrate their first graduating senior class next year, the Class of 2020. Stacy Alton, Superintendent of Leadership Prep, explained that by applying Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, LPS creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader.
All LPS teachers have had intensive training on how to implement the school’s leadership qualities and use these methods throughout their classroom teaching daily. Students use the 7 Habits to develop self-directed learning skills, to build better relationships with their peers, and to become better global citizens.
One of our top priorities is to prepare students for the 21st-century workforce. The workforce has changed dramatically, and we, in education, have to be very nimble as we prepare young people with the tools to be resilient, creative, collaborative, critical thinkers.
It’s refreshing to hear employers say they crave more than technical skills or high-grade point averages. In fact, Kristin Bruner, VP Human Resources at Boeing Global Services says they want people with good old fashioned integrity and ethics, and who embrace diversity and inclusivity.
Things like playing on jungle gyms are actually encouraged by these global business giants. It’s true. Manual dexterity, good spatial reasoning, and how to use tools are all things they seek in addition to the obvious of understanding the technology, math, and science. Bruner says,
Ethics is a hallmark. Be forthright. Look someone in the eye and admit when you can do better. We look for a propensity to create a cohesive work environment. It’s so much more than the ability to do the job.
More than the ability to do the job. It’s those soft skills coming into play again, defined as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.
Leadership, adaptability, communication skills, problem-solving skills, teamwork, work ethics, flexibility, and adaptability seem to rank highest on the wishlist of soft skills.
To encourage the development of these skills, Leadership Prep School employs the project-based learning model where students acquire content knowledge through multiple facets such as research, workshops with teachers, and interviews with professionals. This method makes learning core subject material more relevant and helps students understand the application of knowledge acquired while also encouraging students to develop strong critical thinking skills and become problem solvers.
What is our community doing to prepare our students?
Frisco takes pride in building a city people want to live in and businesses want to call home, having a healthy talent pool for those businesses and connecting schools with employers. Mayor Cheney explained that the old way of commuting out of town to work doesn’t work anymore. People want to be a part of the community they live and work in.
It would be very easy to say the school districts are doing their own thing, the private sector is doing their own thing, but we look at it holistically. We are looking for work, live, play concepts.
Educators are keeping a pulse on the gaps between industry needs and workforce skills. Collin College incorporates soft skills like how to dress and how to speak in interviews into their courses, and they provide job training for new and incumbent employees in such areas as benefits and analytics.
As part of Frisco ISD’s future-ready focus, they have certifications that prepare students for the workforce and have introduced challenge-based learning so students interact with their peers and have a social contract to hold their peers accountable. This all goes back to those soft skills – interacting effectively with others.
Some Frisco ISD schools have adopted a house structure. One benefit of the house structure is that it allows Kindergarteners to interact with 5th graders, for example, so they learn how to collaborate, communicate, and socialize.
Independent Study Mentorships are allowing Frisco students to get hands-on experience in the field they have interest in. Whether it pushes you forward within that industry or whether it opens your eyes that it’s not the right path for you, the mentorships provide exposure before the students head out into the workforce.
Creating good citizens is a priority at Leadership Prep School as well. Students at the open-enrollment charter school are required to fulfill service hours starting in elementary. Additionally, older students mentor younger students through project-based learning initiatives and classroom assignments. The school also utilizes peer-to-peer mediation at the high school level to mediate problems between students and teach students how to work through challenges together to discover and implement win-win solutions.
The University of North Texas is doing their part to bridge the gap with their creativity-first philosophy, starting with their world-class arts program and making sure students leave with sometimes lost basics skills, like knowing how to use a drill. UNT wants to be sure their students leave with skills to not only do the job but also to adapt to the team and culture.
Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Exist (Yet)
No, this isn’t an unemployment rant. This is the reality check that the jobs our children will be doing as young adults don’t even exist yet. When I was in middle school Video Game Animator wasn’t exactly highlighted at career day. We don’t always know what job we are educating for as students make their way through grade school and high school.
So, how do educators meet the needs of employers? Here’s where those soft skills come back into focus. Alton explains,
The reality is without staying in touch with business partners to know the changes we need to make, we won’t know what to do to prepare our students. We have to continue to prepare students by knowing what’s going on in business. We believe that just like learning to read and write and learning math skills, soft skills can be taught and there needs to be lots of practice for it to be natural. We start that in Kindergarten at Leadership Prep.
Gearbox Software understands this quick shift in hiring needs all too well because of how fast their industry has evolved. More art in schools would help meet this challenge, but so does looking for certain soft skills that demonstrate they’re resilient team members.
They look for future employees with the ability to think about their customers on a global scale, stretch their imaginations, and problem solve. Aaron Thibault, VP Strategic Operations at Gearbox, talks about what they look for in a candidate.
We need schools to encourage students to be proficient in mastery on an individual basis but also be a team player and not be selfish. We throw candidates into a scenario with actual team members they’d be working with. We don’t do crawl, walk, run. It’s run from day one. Do they know how to ask questions? Do they try new things?
That’s not the only time I heard the panel talk about the client connection. Will Smayda, Managing Director of Sales, Bank of America/Merrill Edge explained that high tech and high touch is how Bank of America approaches everything from their customers to real estate, to the way they hire.
In fact, changing the way they interview, like screening for soft skills, and building a pathway program to becoming an employee have been intentional shifts to reduce turnover and improve on how they connect with clients. Smayda says,
People we attract to our company need to be tech-savvy but we also look for soft skills, like making eye contact, shaking hands, emotional intelligence, having a volunteer background and even the way they interact with their family – so a real connection can be made with our clients.
Failure and a Firm Handshake
Something I took away from listening to this distinguished panel was the importance of letting kids bend, stretch, and, the dreaded ‘fail’ word. It sunk in for me when I hear a Boeing representative say that while learning the data is important, you also need to learn from failure, how to re-group, and show grit when you need to go in a different direction.
Young people need to experience this themselves in order to build the character traits that will make them valuable employees and leaders one day.
My advice to the future workforce isn’t to focus all your energy on straight A’s or simply mastering a single area of study. I say look them in the eye, give a firm handshake, listen, help provide solutions, respect others regardless of size, shape, color or creed, step out of your comfort zone, and when you fail, face it and work hard to try again to get better.
Here’s to Frisco’s future workforce being prepared to take on the challenge!