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Employers, teachers share notes

SCV business leaders think students — lacking ‘soft skills’ — are not prepared for the workplace

Posted: November 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.

While reading, writing and arithmetic may be the basic staples taught in schools across the nation, local educators learned recently there is an equally strong demand by employers for “soft skills” — the ones that aren’t necessarily built into classroom drills or tangible enough to measure on a test.

Of the 80 educators from the Santa Clarita Valley public school system who took part in the Educators In Industry program earlier this month, most described the experience as eye-opening.

And employers who hosted the visiting educators welcomed the chance to share real-world views of the skills they need in future employees.

A collaborative program among the William S. Hart Union High School District, College of the Canyons and local businesses, the Educators in Industry forum was designed to allow teachers to take what they learned back into the classrooms to tweak study plans and help students gain workforce skills.

Among the many things learned, local educators said, were the many job and career paths open to students in the Santa Clarita Valley that they did not realize existed.

But all teachers came away learning that employers are heavily focused on recruiting people with strong “soft skills.”

Soft skills

Visiting National Technical Systems and Facey Medical group, Gail Mahoney, seventh-grade life science teacher at Arroyo Seco Junior High School, said she received good tips about what employers are looking for. While they will throw away applications that are messy and have spelling errors, they want more than neatness and correctness.

“They want kids to look them in the eye, shake their hands, speak clearly and loudly,” Mahoney said. “They want ‘people persons’ and people who can work as a team.”

As an employer, AMS Fulfillment of Valencia is looking for people with positive attitudes, a willingness to learn and a sense of responsibility, said James Sage, sales manager for AMS Fulfillment.

Mike Mansfield, an English and photography teacher at Bowman High School, came away with similar feedback when he visited Valencia Printing and WayForward, a local video game developer.

Mansfield said he wants to make sure his students, who attend the district’s continuation school, have as much of a chance at employment and a future career as every other student in the district.

WayForward was looking for people who are computer savvy, Mansfield said. But it was also looking for people with well-rounded personalities who could work both independently and in a group.

“That was relatively new because most of us are taught to train our students to write better papers or take a better math test,” Mansfield said. “The exposure to local business needs was really helpful. It allows teachers to change their lessons and how they teach without changing the content.”

Not all feedback was good news, however.

Work ethics

“Surprising and disappointing” was how English teacher Matt Hinze of Saugus High School described his visit to law firm Poole & Shaffery and AMS Fulfillment.

“Both employers felt students were not quite (sufficiently) prepared for the workplace,” Hinze said. “They had some concerns with critical thinking, communication and in some cases even a weak work ethic.”

Work ethic among employees is an area that needs improvement, said Mike Gumm, account manager for AMS Fulfillment.

Hinze hadn’t expected that feedback, he said, because teachers try to prepare students to live up to the quality expectations of employers.

But Hinze also learned that employers are still looking for the basic writing and communication skills that he and his fellow teachers focus on.

“Now it’s just a matter of making sure the kids are taking it all in and are engaged,” Hinze said.

The experience outside the classrooms was educational for local employers as well, according to James Sage, sales manager with AMS Fulfillment.

Outside class

“One of the main things I took away from it is that kids are getting through classes, but not really getting work experience in Santa Clarita,” Sage said.

Mahoney agrees. Students often think they’re going to get a job that pays what they want without having to punch a time clock and be prompt to work, she said.

“Most kids around here don’t have to work and are driving nicer cars than me,” Sage said. “A real-job work experience would be educational for them in choosing the right career path.”

Voldi Way, founder of WayForward, said he thinks it’s easy for academic institutions to become detached from the reality of the workplace.

And Way feels it’s educational for him as well to learn about the challenges teachers face and what interests their students.

While the video-game maker looks for people with technical aptitudes, the company also stresses the importance of communication and writing skills in the workplace, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what job they’ll do,” Way said. “They’ll always be writing emails or documents, even students who think they won’t be using the skill. Writing skills are critical.”

But WayForward also looks for team players, people who work well with others, have good collaboration skills and are self-starters, he said.

“We need people to think independently and need critical-thinking skills.”




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