As mothers, we spend a lot of time thinking and dreaming about what it will be like when our kids are adults, living in their own homes with their own families, enjoying successful and satisfying careers. Imagine your kids cooking dinner for you or picking up the tab at a restaurant. Wow! It’s good to dream, isn’t it?
And dream we should—because everyone deserves the opportunity to live a satisfying, productive life with all the financial benefits that brings. And as parents, our primary job is to prepare our kids to leave the nest.
But today’s parents have a lot to worry about when it comes to our children achieving independence. As of March 2012, the unemployment rate for workers under age 25 was twice as high as the national average. Young college graduates’ unemployment rate was 10.4 percent in 2010, and the rates for high school graduates was even worse at 32.7 percent. In addition, experts say that for the next 10 to 15 years, the Class of 2012 will likely earn less than they would have if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful.
So given these odds, how can a parent ensure that their child has a competitive advantage? While it is clear that completing high school and getting higher education and/or vocational training is important, what many of us often overlook is the importance of “soft” skills development.
Soft skills are those everyday ones we develop over a lifetime. They enable a worker to communicate, think strategically, make decisions, problem solve, and network. They are the skills that are often reflected in an employee’s attitude and level of professionalism. Young people who have these skills are more likely to be hired and less likely to be fired and will perform better in school. They are also the skills that employers often say they can’t get enough of. According to a report commissioned by organizations representing the business sector, three-quarters of surveyed employers said that incoming high school graduates were deficient in soft skills. Additionally, 40 percent of employers said that the high school graduates they hire lack adequate soft skills competency for even entry-level jobs.
So even if you think your child has all the job-specific skills and education he needs, consider whether he is equipped with the soft skills required for success in school, the workplace, and the community.
How can kids develop these skills? The best way is by having opportunities to practice them. The most obvious answer is involvement in school activities, such as clubs and sports teams, where kids learn teamwork, decision-making, and the importance of working together towards a common goal. Volunteer work also offers tremendous opportunities to learn.
Kids who tend to be loners or those who have disabilities may need extra help. Camps or community groups that focus on a subject of interest to your child can make her more comfortable. Help your son or daughter find a mentor through your church or local community organizations. Assist them in finding a part-time job, even if it is doing yard work or odd jobs for a neighbor. Encourage them to take on community projects with their friends.
Like so many other lessons our kids learn, the best place to start is at home. Families play a key role in helping their children learn expected behaviors, understand the unspoken rules of the workplace, and deal with personality conflicts. Here a just a few examples of what can be done at home:
• Use a computer or cell phone to record your child giving directions for doing something they are good at, such as playing a computer game. Review the recording with her to provide feedback on what she did well and what she could do to improve.
• Hold regular family meetings where everyone reviews schedules and chores and attempts to resolve family conflicts. Rotate which family member is in charge of the meeting.
• Play games as a family, especially those that involve teamwork. Board and card games are helpful in learning cooperation, taking turns, following rules, controlling emotions, and learning new knowledge and skills.
• Discuss how people on television handle anger. Talk about the appropriateness of their behavior and strategies for calming down, such as counting to ten or taking a time out.
• Teach your kids appropriate phone manners, such as identifying themselves when making a call and how to take a message.
Once you understand soft skills and their importance, you’re sure to think of other ways to help your child acquire them. Remember: learning soft skills is a process, and families and caring adults play a key role in ensuring that our kids have the work skills they need for future success.
Denise M. Murden is a co-founder of Janus Solutions, which provides workshops and personal coaching for teens and young adults to help them learn soft skills needed for success in school, the workplace, and the community.