How Businesses and Parents Can Help Students with People Skills Before Employment

With U.S. graduation rates being at an all-time high, one might expect employers to have a wealth of qualified candidates to hire. Instead, many employers are finding that these recent graduates are unprepared to succeed in the workforce.

While many are graduating with technical skills, their “soft skills” are lacking. These skills — from professional communication and critical thinking to collaboration and time management — are seen as critical by employers, yet have not historically been taught with consistency or prioritized.

As a successful working mother who has gone to college and moved all over the world, I know first hand what it means to be both book smart and people smart. With three teens of my own – ages 15, 16, and 17 – I see the look of fear in their eyes when we talk about careers and advancements after high school. Things like, “I don’t know what to do mom” or “But what if I’m not good at my job?” and even “But how would I talk to my co-workers and start conversations?” These may seem petty issues to those of us who have been in business and socially connect with other people in person on a daily basis, but these things aren’t taught in school and with the way society now hides behind computers and electronics, the socialization skills, or “people smart” skills have become few and far between.

Don’t get me wrong, my children interact with other people consistently. They are Volunteer Firefighters, in Civil Air Patrol Academies, Habitat for Humanity, and other socialization and community activities aside from the electronics. It also helps that they were raised in a military family all their life as my husband was military for 23 years and we traveled all over the world, so they had to LEARN how to socialize, communicate, and build relationships around new cultures, friends, and places. However, these were LEARNED skills that many of the students (and adults) who stay in one place or shelter themselves around a select few, fail to obtain. Yes, some people are naturally extroverts and some are introverts, but when we move out beyond high school,  we have to have a little bit of “people skills”. These skills can affect us in many ways, such as in a job interview, selling a product, discussing a project, and even buying a car.

When my husband retired from the military, even though he had 20+ years of experience for the job, he was actually offered $80,000 a year simply because of his “people skills”. He knew how to lead, how to talk, how to pursued, and how to encourage people. He brought a company’s motivation and expectations up within one year of his employment with the new company and his team loved him. People skills are skills the new generation needs to embrace BEFORE they start working and it is definitely a skill business owners must religiously encourage in themselves as well as their employees.

A recent whitepaper commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), an education nonprofit that equips students with the necessary soft skills needed to be successful in college and their careers, highlights recent partnerships between the business and education sectors to tackle this skills gap.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How Employers Can Partner with Educators to Prepare Students for the 21st Century Workforce” offers practical recommendations for businesses to make an impact and profiles strategic partnerships being successfully implemented across the country by Nike, Ernst & Young, Wegmans, Wynn Las Vegas, and the Northern Kentucky Education Council.

According to a 2016 analysis by the Wall Street Journal, 92 percent of nearly 900 surveyed executives said soft skills were as or more important than technical skills, yet 89 percent reported some level of difficulty finding employees who have mastered these skills.

“With almost 6 million unfilled jobs in America, this lack of soft skills hurts workers, businesses and the economy,” says Cheryl Oldham of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce. “Businesses recognize the critical need for soft skills and are working hard in their communities to help students obtain the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.”

A growing number of companies are focusing on student education as a part of their business strategy. By equipping students with the skills for workplace success, they strengthen their talent pipeline and create shared value. The following insights from the whitepaper offers successful approaches to collaboration between the education and business sectors to help youth become better prepared for their careers.

Classroom solutions

Investing in classroom solutions empowers teachers to better help young people develop the skills they need in school, work, and life. Since promoting soft skills is less about what is taught than how they are taught, access to hands-on methodology training for educators is vital. Employers can help by ensuring that teachers and administrators across local schools have access to proven professional development programs from established education nonprofits.

Mentoring for college and career readiness

Businesses can mobilize employees to mentor students based upon a college and career readiness curriculum. Proponents of these mentoring programs say that they enhance employee satisfaction and retention; strengthen the talent pipeline; and contribute to thriving communities.


In adopting a specific school or school district, businesses typically identify and commit to meeting a holistic set of needs through multifaceted programming, ranging from tutoring and mentoring to specific grants for programming and facilities.

Work-based learning

Instead of solely offering traditional internships for college students, businesses can partner with high schools to establish pre-employment apprenticeship programs designed to introduce students to workplace demands. The Department of Labor supports employers that establish Registered Apprenticeships to build a robust talent pipeline.

Coalition building

Building a coalition of representatives from industry, the education system, and the community creates the space for meaningful dialogue about common priorities and unique local challenges. It also facilitates collective action around solutions.

For more on how the business and education sectors are closing the skills gap, click here to read “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How Employers Can Partner with Educators to Prepare Students for the 21st Century Workforce.”


Some other great reads to help students, employees, and even yourself:


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Kat Mahoney

Owner/Executive Director at WeDiscoverGeeks
Kat Mahoney is the Owner of and Founding Partner of The GBCC. She attended Hawaii Pacific University for Computer Science and holds 20 years of virtual business consulting, social engagement, tech education, internet marketing and content management. Most importantly she is a geekmom to three teens and wife to a retired military engineer.