When an employer encounters a young job applicant who has few, if any, "soft skills"—such as planning, the ability to resist Facebook or texting, positive communications skills or even the understanding that work is a time to, well, work—it is easy to roll your eyes and blame the parents or the lack of preparation for the real world. But that doesn't solve the problem.
The answer lies in reversing the cycle of young people unprepared for the workplace, which can tank their earning potential and cause anxiety and stress. That is, teach them valuable soft skills at a young age.
The Jackson Public Schools district is embracing a strategy that promises to make a huge difference in young people's lives, as well as improve their future success and earning potential with its new focus on freshman learning academies. In that pivotal shift from middle to high school, starting this fall, all JPS freshmen are placed in a freshman learning academy. Then, JPS plans to add academics to another grade every year through the 2017-2018 school year.
These small learning communities will integrate academic and career-focused learning that aligns work-based learning with the needs of area employers, which includes the teaching of soft skills.
The success, though, depends on community involvement and partnership, especially with businesses. Alignment Jackson, a partnership between JPS, United Way of the Capital Area, Greater Jackson Chamber and the City of Jackson, says on its website that the academy plan "opens the door for community to play an unprecedented role in support of Jackson Public Schools and will revolutionize how educators teach and students learn." Here is more info, and a call for help, from alignmentjackson.org's Invitation to Participate page:
• Increase average daily attendance by 5 percent at each JPS high school
• Increase parental awareness
• JPS academy coaches are prepared to support the freshman academy and academic-themed academies at their schools
• JPS freshman seminar teachers are prepared to support the freshman academy at their school
• Increase college readiness
• Increase high-school graduation rate
• Increase career readiness
• Increase average daily attendance
GOAL: Five Characteristics of a JPS Graduate
Alignment Jackson and JPS hopes that the learning-academy approach will ensure that every graduate of
• ... has an ACT Score of 21 or above.
• ... completes an individual career and academic plan.
• ... completes an online course or computer proficiency course.
• ... gets college credit or a nationally recognized professional certification.
• ... completes community service, an internship or a capstone project.
How the Community Can Help
Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and the Alignment Jackson High School Committee/Team is open to exploring opportunities that may not be listed below:
• Speakers Bureau
—How to resolve conflict?
—How to use technology responsibly?
—The power and meaning of grade point average?
—How to plan for career?
—How to plan for college?
—How to manage finances?
• Equipment to support academic-themed academies
• Business partnerships
• Internship opportunities for students
• Externship opportunities for teachers
• Other relevant services and resources
#BanBossy Once and for All
Many little girls grow up to be mamas. Often through no fault of their own, they end up as single mothers. They need to earn well in order to care for their families and themselves. They need to be ready to lead organizations, as well as their own families.
Obvious, no? Well, maybe not. Our society too often stifles our girls' potential and voices from an early age, limiting their earnings and success potential. Let's stop it now.
Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" book has not only become a neo-feminist manifesto of sorts—it's OK to be ambitious; lean into it!—but she, Beyonce and others have started the #banbossy campaign to remind parents, teachers and mentors that little girls are told early and often that they shouldn't be strong or bossy, thus setting up a pattern that can stunt their leadership, and earning, potential for a lifetime. It's food for thought about attitudes toward all women in leadership, as well. See banbossy.com for many exercises on how to reverse this troubling practice.
What Employers Want
Stephen R. Covey, the "7 Habits of Successful People" guy, believes that schools should incorporate basic leadership skills into their curricula. In his inspiring book, "The Leader In Me," Covey provides a list of qualities and skills that employers are seeking in hires. All of these, he argues, can and should be incorporated every way possible into the school experience. Otherwise, he or she is likely to struggle in the workplace.
- Communication skills (verbal and written)
- Teamwork skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Strong work ethic
- Analytical skills
- Technology skills
- Organization skills
- Creative minds