Soft Skills Development
Before youth are ready to enter the workforce, they must develop professional workplace skills and behaviors. This basic skill set—known as soft skills—include a broad set of skills required for workplace situations encountered in everyday adult life. In this toolkit, we’ve chosen to focus specifically on soft skills related to professional development. As an employer you are uniquely suited to help youth build skills related to communications, decision making, time management and relationship building, among others. For more on this topic, see Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce, 2006.
There are numerous soft skills beyond those required for the work place—daily living, home life and personal health are only a few examples. Many partner organizations that work with youth frequently have established programs to meet these needs, and staff instructors are experienced teaching these sensitive issues. This toolkit focuses on work-related soft skills development.
Opportunity for interacting with youth
Opportunity youth need to develop soft skills in order to navigate daily adult life in the workforce.
How can your company provide youth with an on-ramp to employment?
- Soft skills workshops focused on work-related skills
- Assistance in navigation post-secondary educational opportunities
Outcomes for youth & business
Youth have foundational soft skills to prepare them for work life.
A business can leverage and hone its employees' leadership skills by having them facilitate workshops for youth.
Your Company's Resources and Commitment
The table below was developed based on insights from business leaders who have successfully implemented a program focused on teaching opportunity youth work-related soft skills. Based on your results from the survey, your company likely has the “required” resources and readiness for a Soft Skills Development program. Review the “ideal” and “useful, but not essential” lists for additional ideas.
- Employees to volunteer and interact with youth
- Knowledge about the soft skills that will be shared with youth (e.g., how to conduct a job search, professional etiquette, etc.)
- Internal expertise to create, then facilitate, a training agenda
- Stipends or other incentives for youth to encourage participation (ideas: snacks, raffle prizes, graduation ceremony upon completion of the training program
Useful, but not essential:
- If youth can come to your company facilities to host the trainings in your offices (makes it easier on your volunteers and gives youth exposure to a real workplace)
- Relationships with other companies and community organizations to help youth connect and build their networks
- Support from the immediate manager of the person who will be accountable for your soft skills program
- A corporate culture that values growth and development
- A corporate culture that values social responsibility and community investment
- A corporate culture that is flexible and comfortable dealing with change
- Your company has or would be willing to create systems to measure the outcomes of your program
Useful, but not essential:
- Your company is already involved in some type of youth serving programs (e.g., mentoring or tutoring volunteer program)
Define Your Program Scope
The survey helped you identify what resources and supports you have available within your company and community networks. This information helped you to choose the best lane of engagement for your business.
The program scoping worksheet below will help you think about how you want to apply your company’s resources and your support networks to build a successful program. If you’re already working in this realm and seek to expand an existing effort, great. You can use this tool to scope your expansion. If this will be a new effort, we encourage you to start with a modest pilot effort and you can use the worksheet below to scope your pilot.
Complete this worksheet on your own and gather responses from other stakeholders (your immediate supervisor, colleagues, and other business partners whose buy-in you value), or consider holding a working session to gather input from people who are invested in the program.
Download the Soft Skills Development Program Scope Worksheet (PDF 114kb) below.
Looking to build more strategic and successful partnerships with partner organizations, and align your community initiatives to increase return on investment? Check out Opportunities in the Workforce Readiness Pipeline: A Community Engagement Toolkit for Business, 2011, Corporate Voices for Working Families.
Plan & Pilot
of Soft Skills Development Approaches
- Soft skills workshops focused on work-related skills
- Assistance in navigating post-secondary educational opportunities
Test your plan with a pilot. You’ll learn a lot during the pilot phase, and it will give you the flexibility to refine your program gradually.
The purpose of this section is to provide your company with guidelines for creating a Soft Skills Development pilot program. This will allow your company to test this model to ensure that it is the right fit prior to making larger-scale resource commitments. In this toolkit, we provide an outline of a work-related soft skills workshop. There are several other approaches that could work for a soft skills training program (some examples appear in the box on the right). Additional tools are in the “More Resources” section.
Work-Related Soft Skills Workshops
Interactive workshops provide opportunity youth with a chance to learn work-related soft skills and to practice these skills in a safe learning environment. Curricula for these workshops already exist and can be leveraged from the web or from a partner. Remember the goal is to keep your program simple at first, so leveraging existing training resources when possible can help simplify the planning process.
Youth learn work-relevant soft skills such as communication, time management, decision making, and business etiquette which are critical to success in the workplace.
Businesses help develop skilled youth for their workforce and employees build skills through volunteerism and community engagement.
This Way Ahead provides underserved youth with opportunities for skill development and career exploration. This program enables youth to build work-related soft skills, while providing Gap Inc. employees with meaningful development opportunities, deeper connections with co-workers and increased loyalty to Gap Inc.
What does a soft skills workshop look like?
of Work-Related Soft Skills Workshop Topics
- Career planning
- Conflict management
- Decision making
- Financial literacy/money management
- Presentation skills (formal & informal)
- Time management
Wondering what a successful pilot workshop might include? Use the outline and sample curriculum below to help plan your event.
- Reach out to a partner focused on youth development to identify a small group of youth. (Need help finding a partner organization? Check out our Potential Partners page for recommendations on how to find a nonprofit or school with which you can partner.)
- Identify a workshop topic (see examples in sidebar). Think about employees who will be participating—which topics are they most likely to be comfortable teaching? Do any of them relate to specific and relevant professional talents available at your company?
- Define an agenda. Work with the partner organization to make sure that the workshop topic is relevant to youth and is interactive to fit their learning style. Keep it to two hours or less. Leverage existing training resources where possible.
- Hold your event!
Track your results. Measure your program impact by tracking a few simple metrics. Begin to quantify how your results contributed to the bottom line. Here are some recommendations to track your program reach and impact. Be sure to also review Appendix A for additional detail on tracking the business value of your program.
- Youth: Capture the number enrolled and the number who complete. Have youth take a “self-assessment” (e.g., development focused questionnaire) before and after the program.
- Employees: Capture the number of employees involved and their roles. Have employees involved as managers, mentors, or coaches take a “self-assessment” (e.g., development or satisfaction questionnaire) before and after the program.
- Company: Track internal publicity surrounding the pilot program, e.g., the number of articles posted on the intranet or in newsletters.
- Overall Resources: Keep careful record of pilot program funds (amounts and sources) and in-kind support (e.g., volunteer hours, catering, facilities usage)—noting where over or under budget.
- Integrate your learnings and give it another try. Rotate the topics offered and involve new employee departments.
Off-the-Shelf Curriculum Examples
Financial Literacy/Money Management Workshop (FDIC’s Money Smart)
The FDIC’s Money Smart for Young Adults curriculum helps youth, ages 12-20, learn the basics of handling their money and finances. Money Smart for Young Adults consists of eight instructor-led modules. Each module includes a fully scripted instructor guide, participant guide, and overhead slides.
Email Communication 101 (Goodwill Community Foundation)
This introductory course will teach youth about the basics about email, including understanding how email works, how to get an email service, and how to communicate properly and safely online. This is an interactive workshop.
Managing Conflict (Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead Program)
This workshop is designed to teach participants skills on how to respond to and manage conflict. Throughout the workshop, youth will look at reasons for conflict, different ways to respond to conflict and, in some cases, how to prevent it. Participants will have time to role play these new skills and build confidence.
Decision Making (Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead Program)
This workshop is designed to provide youth with a model for making decisions and a forum to practice using the model.
A national financial literacy partnership of Consumer Action and Capital One, Moneywi$e is the first program of its kind to combine free, multilingual financial education materials, curricula and teaching aids with regional meetings and roundtables to train community-based organization staff so that consumers at all income levels and walks of life can be reached.
The following links provide access to robust financial education content for older teens and adults:
The Secret Millionaires Club
AOL’s webisodes with Warren Buffet are geared toward youth and give tips on how to run a business, from marketing to operations.
Refine & Grow
Once you’ve successfully completed one or more pilot workshops, consider whether the Soft Skills Development lane of engagement seems to be a good fit for your company.
- Was feedback positive and did the youth report an impact?
- Were you able to involve employees with a range of backgrounds?
- Did you set up, manage, and run the workshops without hitting any major barriers?
- Was the partner organization the right match for your company? Would this partner be a good fit for a longer-term relationship?
If you answered these questions “yes,” consider how to formalize your efforts and how to evolve your pilot into an ongoing program.
From Pilot to Program: Customize and Formalize your Soft Skills Development Program
While moving a program from a pilot phase to a true operating phase means growth, growth doesn’t always mean numbers. When you’re ready to take the next step in your lane of engagement, defining what “growth” means for you is a critical step in making it your own. While a formal program could mean repeating the workshops from the pilot phase with new youth or in new places, it also might mean bringing the same small group of youth in for more intensive training, or finding a long-term partner to develop new program components. This definition process requires input from multiple perspectives—be sure to capture and integrate feedback from past participants, youth development staff experts from partner organizations, and senior company stakeholders.
Want More On Measurement?
See the Reporting Tools section for additional resources and useful tools that help you track and measure the business value of your lane of engagement.
- Revisit your original assessment survey results and your pilot program scope exercise.
- Think back to the piloting process. Where was there opportunity for improvement? Make note of areas of feedback and learnings that can be integrated into the next phase of program build-out.
Using this information, refine your program scope.
- Youth served
- Company resources leveraged
- Key stakeholders involved
- Program objectives (goals for youth, your employees & the business)
Build your program.
- Define roles, responsibilities and shared goals with your partner organization(s). With a longer term program, you should plan on providing your partner with a grant to acquire the resources they will need to support this partnership and program.
- Design and draft relevant employee resources, planning tools, and packaged curriculum or training to ensure the program can grow effectively and be sustained.
- Look for opportunities to incorporate best practices.
- Give your program a name!
Track your results. Continue to track metrics from your pilot. Take your measurement from good to great by adding these metrics or evaluation practices to the mix.
- Youth: Use an outside evaluator to conduct pre- and post-participant assessments, and conduct an assessment with a time lag after the program concludes to capture change. Track the number of youth who enter the company as interns, part-time, or full-time employees.
- Employees: Assign employees involved in the program a “unique ID” in HR system for tracking of career progression (e.g., pay raises, performance reviews) and retention compared to a control group.
- Company: Track external press mentions and use in company marketing/outreach materials; if large enough in scale, launch customer satisfaction surveys with targeted questions on reputational/community impact.
- Overall Resources: Systematically track start up costs, run rate costs, program offsets (e.g., tax credits, training subsidies), and in-kind support being sure to note sources of funding; resources will likely span business units and budgets so try to keep record of program resources in one location for easy access and accurate reporting.
Integrate Program Best Practices
Define your partnership
Work with your partner organization to define your working relationship. Clearly outline roles and responsibilities (consider the table below). Define goals together. Outline your communications to ensure there’s consistency and frequency of contact.
What should your partner bring to the table?
- Connection to the target population
- Ability to select and support youth for the program
- Vibrant community networks and existing relationships
- History with and institutional knowledge of the challenges and best practices related to working with opportunity youth
- Stable leadership and infrastructure to support partnership
- Volunteer management history and a track record of successful corporate partnerships is ideal
What should you bring to the table?
- The passion and drive to make the program a success
- A commitment that the primary beneficiaries of the program are the youth and the community, but an understanding of how this benefits your company
- Clear understanding of desired goals and "success indicators" for the new program
- Clear understanding of available resources to support the program
- Defined scope, scale, model, and management plan
- Defined roles and responsibilities
Leadership buy-in: Secure the buy-in of senior leadership of the company and set realistic expectations.
Set high expectations: Set high expectations for the youth and help them meet those expectations.
Culture of open communication: Foster open communication so that the youth, partner organization and other stakeholders can provide feedback, express concerns and learn about progress.
Financial Literacy Money Matters (Boys & Girls Clubs of America in partnership with Charles Schwab Foundation)
Website with interactive tools to plan and learn about money management. Should you invest in your education? How do you start saving money? How can you take charge of your financial future?
Ready by 21 Suite of Business and Community Tools
This series of publications and tools, developed in support of the Ready by 21 National Partnership, is for both business and community leaders to help them better engage each other and build sustainable, successful and strategic partnerships, ensuring that all youth are prepared for college, work and life.
New Options Project Micro Business Case Series
This series of micro-case studies highlights employers who are partnering with nonprofit partners to provide life skills development opportunities and to create enterprising pathways that provide career training for untapped talent. Companies highlighted include: AOL, Accenture, Bank of America, CVS Caremark, Expeditors, Gap Inc., HEB Grocery Company, and Southwire Company.