When state Rep. Margaret Kaiser, D-Atlanta, visited the Kia plant in West Point, she said the automakers told her that they don’t need young workers with college degrees.
“They can take kids with high school diplomas and teach them what they need to know. But they need them to show up on time. Kids do not understand everyday workforce requirements,” Kaiser said.
The state wants to fix that by integrating “soft skills” into the high school curriculum and awarding students certificates to show that they have mastered these skills — skills that were once known as good manners and work ethic.
One of the simplest definitions of soft skills comes from management coach Peggy Klaus, author of “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.” She explains that while hard skills are the factual and technical talents that workers bring to their jobs, soft skills represent their ability to get along with colleagues, sell their ideas, get to work on time, problem solve and motivate others.
Many people lament the spotty interpersonal skills and work ethic of the millennial generation, the media-savvy teenagers who can command MacBooks and PhotoShop but apparently can’t figure out an alarm clock.
But do these students need primers on workplace etiquette, from Intro to Punctuality and Saggy Pants 101?
Won’t they learn those lessons on their own once they’re fired a few times for showing up late or baring their skull-head tattoos at work?
A comprehensive career and college readiness bill passed this year by the General Assembly authorizes the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development to establish certification in soft skills such as punctuality, ability to learn, appropriate business attire and the ability to work as a team.
The workforce development office is holding 31 town hall meetings across the state to find out what employers want, what parents think and what high schools ought to do to convince their students that there’s more to keeping a job than making an appearance now and then.
Millennials grew up in a society that rewarded them for just showing up, said Deborah Covin Wilson, senior adviser for career support Georgia Tech, at a town hall meeting Thursday at DeKalb Technical College in Clarkston.
“On a soccer team, everybody gets a trophy whether you win or lose. Because you came, you get a trophy,” she said. “If you grow up like that, you think that if you just barely got to work and didn’t do anything, then you have the right to stay there.”
=State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale, who is also a college professor, told the town hall audience that she locks the door to her classroom once she begins teaching to impress on students that they can’t waltz in late.
Calling them “people skills” rather than soft skills, Drenner said: “Students don’t really know that showing up to work on time is, in fact, part of work. This generation of millennials is a lot different than baby boomers. They can work an iPad and they can text, which are all great skill sets. But they do need help with communicating with people, forming teams and dressing appropriately.”
Sheryl Chapman, director of DeKalb Workforce Development, says her agency counsels hundreds of teen job seekers. One of the first pieces of advice she gives teens as they arrive at her Decatur office in revealing outfits or sagging pants, “You can either work or you can be fashionable.”
With some students graduating high school unable to read on grade level or perform basic math, critics argue that schools don’t have time to instruct students in workplace niceties, instruction that ought to occur in the home.
As a parent commented here on the blog last week, “No, this is not the school’s job. It’s the parent’s job. There is absolutely no reason to legislate this or make some sort of certification. It is just common sense and taking pride in one’s self.”
Melvin Everson, a former state representative and now executive director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, counters that soft skills have an economic impact both on individuals and the state.
He cites research that a lack of soft skills accounts for 45 percent of the employees fired during probationary periods on new jobs. Many employers complain to him that their interns have no idea how to answer a phone, dress for an office setting, work in a group or greet clients.
“This is not to replace what is going to be done at home,” Everson said. “But if it is not being done at home, there is a role we have to play to make sure our workforce is prepared to be the best it can possibly be so when industries and business come knocking on the doors of Georgia, they will be able to say we have a workforce in Georgia that they can pull from and put to work.”
If industries can’t find that workforce in Georgia, Everson said, “They are going to look to North Carolina, Florida or Alabama. Or, even worse, they are going to look overseas.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog