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Soft Skills: Harder than Hard Skills

Teaching young people technical skills can be a challenge, but even more daunting is transforming their habits and behaviors to meet the needs of today's companies. Can professionalism be taught? Year Up thinks so.

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More than half (53%) of business leaders say their companies face a very or fairly major challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees with the skills, training, and education their company needs.  At the same time, 5 million young adults in the U.S. with no more than a high school diploma are out of work.  While young people can often soak up technical skills in the right training environment, professional skills are acquired at a much slower rate.  Learning to carry oneself according to a professional code may require young people to change long held habits and behaviors.  

Year Up offers 18-24 year olds an opportunity to spend six months learning technical and professional skills in the classroom and then six months applying those skills in the real world on internships with companies like Microsoft, Google, and Bank of America.  Much of the first six months is dedicated to building "soft" skills.  Students are held accountable through a contract point system that communicates professional expectations.  Students "fire themselves" if they lose all their points.  Students are also placed within learning communities and assigned advisers, which serves to support students as they undergo personal change.  Much time is spent helping students understand their personal narratives and integrate a new identity as a working professional.

Students are also enrolled in a "Professional Skills" course for which they receive community college credit.  The course focuses on four pillars of professional skills: warmth, competence, self-management, and teamwork.  Students learn how to impact other people's perception to show that they are a warm and likeable person, as well as someone who is competent, reliable and knowledgeable in their field.  Classes are taught in an interactive format and focus on helping students navigate a path to professionalism


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I think this is great inspiration - thanks for sharing. When I was at school (many moons ago) we had a programme called 'World of Work' but it was actually really stigmatised - it was basically targeted at kids who were likely to leave school at 16 with little or no formal qualifications. I think much of what they taught in that programme would have been beneficial to all students, but being in that class marked you out as a 'no-hoper'. There was a real poverty of ambition around the programme that YearUp seem to have addressed. Programmes like this should feel much more aspirational because they're valuable to everyone.

And as someone who has worked a lot with interns from top universities who might have first-class honours degrees but literally didn't have the common sense to stuff an envelope properly, I know the need for these kinds of skills extends well beyond 'the usual suspects'!

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