BY PAM CLIFTON, WEST ST. FRANCOIS CO. R-4
Michael is a recent college graduate. His impressive resume includes many accomplishments: a bachelor’s degree in accounting, extensive computer software knowledge and numerous awards and certificates. These accomplishments indicate Michael’s long list of technical skills and practical abilities acquired through education and experience.
These skills are necessary, but what about the ones employers are really looking for? Some of the most impressive abilities cannot be measured with high scores and awards.
Soft skills, or “people skills,” are invaluable to employers and essential for any workplace. They include time management, work ethic, etiquette, conflict resolution, listening, being a team player, public speaking, communicating, leading, self-reflecting, decision making and more. Also called “employability skills,” these are essential for students when they gain employment, whether immediately after high school or once they complete college. In fact, many managers say their employees struggle with these skills.
Job descriptions are more likely to explicitly list “hard skills,” but often gloss over work habits and personality traits. A 2021 survey from BestColleges.com revealed that one in three Americans value soft skills over hard skills. Clearly, education cannot revolve solely around learning hard skills - how can teachers weave these soft skills into their classrooms and prepare students for all aspects of a potential career?
Note-taking, self-reflection, class discussions, group projects, teamwork and peer reviews are great ways to introduce soft skills. Create active listening opportunities for students by including guest speakers but be sure to review expectations before the event. Teach students how to respond appropriately to guests by reminding them to always be positive, polite and professional.
Mentorship can also be advantageous for students. Collaborating with mentors, particularly when pairing younger students with their older peers, fosters effective communication and enhances skills such as adaptability, problem-solving and more.
West St. Francois County R-4 places emphasis on developing various soft skills in their high school students over the course of all four years. Among the skills that West County High School counselor Andrea Simily prioritizes is the creation of educational resumes. These serve as valuable tools for students when they apply to colleges, scholarships and jobs. Furthermore, students engage in activities that are relevant to their career paths such as interest surveys, college and career fairs and other similar activities.
The school’s JAG program helps students practice for job interviews, requiring them to dress professionally and experience an actual interview with local business leaders. JAG and tech students also attend industrial tours to gain exposure to careers available within the community.
Many other groups work to develop comparable skills as well. The school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America members take on a huge role in the fall when they plan, prepare and serve an entire meal to area veterans. Unitec Health Services students assist the elementary and middle school nurses with health screenings each year. Student council members lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance and report the daily announcements.
“We depend on students to lead our school activities,” Simily said. “And they learn important skills while they’re doing it.”
When Melissa Pipkin became a counselor and student council advisor at West County Middle School, she recalled soft skills like parliamentary procedure which she had utilized in her Family and Consumer Science classroom and FCCLA organization.
“My middle school students looked at me like I had a third eye [when I mentioned the process of conducting a meeting],” she said. “They didn’t understand the concept of making a motion, discussing the issue on the floor, then using their voice to vote on it.”
Pipkin has learned to take small steps in planning activities and leadership principles because “even the most intelligent of students can get tripped up on concepts they are not used to practicing or seeing being practiced,” she explained.
Her students work in small groups with a variety of leadership styles to brainstorm realistic activities for the school year.
“No idea is off the table,” Pipkin said. “Allowing students the freedom to think aloud and practice their creativity, they come up with some pretty outlandish ideas. But after discussing each activity and breaking it down into more doable projects, it is surprising the unique service projects they have produced.”
Each year, the student council ensures they involve students, teachers and staff members in activities. They have contributed to the betterment of the community through fundraising activities and donations to memorial scholarships for deceased students. Additionally, the council has provided support to a family traveling to and from the hospital by donating food and gas cards, and aided the Cardinal Glennon toy closet by providing toys for children experiencing extended hospital stays. This year’s fundraising efforts collected more than $1,000 to support the Special Olympics of Missouri.
“The main goal I have for my students is to think outside the box, create a realistic plan for the activities we want to complete throughout the year and serve others,” Pipkin emphasized. “After we complete an activity, we evaluate it by discussing what went well, what didn’t go so well and what we would do differently if we chose to do the activity again.”
Through these enriching experiences, West County students build numerous soft skills such as leadership, motivation, responsibility, communication, teamwork and collaboration, time management and so much more.
Regardless of a student’s grade level or if they’ll choose college or a career after they graduate, soft skills should be part of their education. Teachers must purposely create opportunities for students to learn, experience and hone these skills. When they do, students become confident, self-reliant, responsible, productive and employable members of society.
Pam Clifton teaches sixth-grade English Language Arts and reading at West County Middle School in West St. Francois Co. R-4. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com.