Awareness of the need for soft skills in the workplace has undoubtedly increased in recent years. Time and time again, we hear from employers seeking personal traits such as punctuality, strong work ethic and leadership ability. Often, soft skills take priority over hard skills, as employers are willing to train candidates who possess characteristics like loyalty, strong communication skills and the ability to work in a team environment.
We’re also hearing more about what a workforce with strong soft skills means for our overall region. Because these skills are in high demand globally, our workforce’s soft skills are a matter of economic development and business investment, too.
Across the Lincoln Trail region, workforce and economic development professionals, educators and others are building successful programs to develop the soft skills that workers and employers need to succeed.
The Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail and the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board were proud to partner with Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and local employers to offer a free, weeklong training program that focused on soft skills for job seekers.
Offered at the Elizabethtown, Leitchfield and Springfield campuses, the training included a panel discussion with area employers about in-demand skills and on-the-job expectations. The program concluded with job interviews.
“For many of the participants, it was transformational,” said Tom Davenport, Dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at ECTC. “With strengthened communication and interviewing skills, information on dressing for success and more, they were more competitive job candidates.”
Davenport noted that soft skills training is not simply a checklist as expectations vary among employers. That’s why, in addition to traditional soft skills, job seekers and potential job seekers must understand the value of critical thinking.
“Soft skills are situational and it’s important to observe, think critically and learn an employer’s expectations once they are on the job,” he said.
Additionally, ECTC offers this type of program with a customized curriculum to individual employers.
Still, soft skills training is not reserved for special programs. It’s incumbent upon educators to expose students to the importance of soft skills, Davenport said, and that exposure is regularly embedded in students’ classes at ECTC.
Also, secondary schools across our region are deliberately addressing soft skills development.
Hardin County Schools is in its third year of Work Ethic Certification, a program in which students choose to participate. Students must meet multiple standards, from attendance and preparedness to teamwork and community service. Meeting these standards earns the student a mock interview with community leaders, which is the capstone piece of certification.
“A student may have scored well on all the standards, but if they walk into the interview wearing shorts and a T-shirt, they won’t earn Work Ethic Certification,” said John Wright, director of community relations for the school district.
A number of businesses have partnered with Hardin County Schools to guarantee job interviews to Work Ethic Certification holders, which serves as an incentive for students and an opportunity for local employers to discover new talent.
“What we’re providing the community is assurance that our seniors are work ready with the skills our employers need,” Hardin County Schools Superintendent Nannette Johnston added.
In Washington County, when educators began collaborating with local employers to develop a work ready program, they found employers shared a common need for soft skills development. The district has been addressing that need through classroom instruction and leadership programs, said Chief Academic Officer Cherry Boyles, who noted the business community’s steadfast support.
Just this month, the district rolled out its Work Ready Seal program. Students may apply for the certification annually and must show evidence of multiple criteria such as time management, communication skills and perseverance.
“We plan for the Work Ready Seal program to give students an opportunity to highlight their achievements and potential for success in the global workforce,” Boyles said.
At the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, we work daily with employers who place high value on soft skills, and we are excited to see more and more job seekers and future job seekers learning about these critical traits.
In addition, soft skills training is available through Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail via one-on-one job coaching, job seeker workshops and customized workshops for employers in our region. For more information, contact the career center in Elizabethtown at (270) 766-5115; Lebanon at (270) 692-6870; or Leitchfield, (270) 259-4912.
Carter Dyson is One Stop Director for Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, which is overseen by the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board. He can be reached at 270-766-5115 or email@example.com.