Teaching students soft skills

Staff report


Making eye contact, arriving to work on time and being able to work well with others sounds like a given when it comes to getting – and keeping – a job.

Those soft skills are the qualities that many Mahoning Valley employers complain the younger generation lacks.

The Youngstown Business and Education Community Connectors is changing that.

YBECC is a partnership among Youngstown City Schools, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Youngstown State University, Kent State Trumbull, Eastern Gateway Community College, Warren City Schools and Teen Straight Talk. Its goal is to make students workforce ready.

Lois Haynes Paige and program coordinators at the district’s three high schools link students with employers. Even if the employer doesn’t exactly match the student’s interests, the students learn skills that are transferable to any job or profession.

“We’re teaching soft skills: getting to work on time, being reliable, dependable and a team player,” Haynes Paige said. “These are skills they need across the board.”

Chamber-member employers informed the organization about a lack of soft skills and customer-service acumen among young people entering the workforce. Many young applicants didn’t make eye contact, weren’t punctual or hung up on customers. Others didn’t know how to write a resume or fill out a job application.

The chamber applied in 2015 for a Community Connectors grant from the state and received $92,000 to start the program in the Youngstown City Schools. This year, the chamber got a $100,000 grant and expanded the program into Warren City Schools.

About 150 juniors and seniors from YCSD and about 50 from Warren’s Warren G. Harding High School are in the program.

To be selected, students must earn a minimum 2.0 grade-point average and get a recommendation from a teacher. They can’t have disciplinary problems.

Employers include fast-food restaurants, discount and drug stores, governmental entities and some trade and manufacturing business.

YBECC also helps students earn a driver’s license as transportation can be a problem for many. The program pays a portion of the driver’s school fee, but the parents or guardians pay the bulk, encouraging them to make sure their child attends the classes.

Haynes Paige also brings some of the former enrollees in to talk to those in the program now.

“They tell them to listen and to do what they’re supposed to do,” she said.

The last step in the Community Connectors program is mentorship. The director and coordinators find adults to mentor the students, taking them on outings with the group and spending time with them.

She has nearly 90 signed up and she’s looking for more. Mentors must pass a background check and a drug test to participate in Community Connectors. When possible, she tries to match students with mentors from a field in which the student shows an interest.

“Mentors just need to give us an hour of their time and love children,” Haynes Paige said. “Those who want to make a difference in the community and can give at least an hour per week. That’s who we’re looking for.”

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