There is a lot of talk about the availability of skilled labor and technical training being critical in a technology-driven global economy. But there is another set of employee skills that are as important, if not more so. Referred to as “soft skills,” they are not associated with a particular industry, but are necessary to succeed in business no matter what the career focus. That’s why NJBIA is partnering with Junior Achievement (JA) of New Jersey to promote a new program called JA Career Success that is aimed at developing those skills.
Soft skills involve fundamental abilities that cut across all industries—skills like problem solving, teamwork, conflict resolution, and even basics like how to dress properly or talk to customers or clients. But with the school day increasingly filled with core curriculum requirements that focus on English, Math and the Sciences, there is less time devoted to preparing future graduates with the career skills they need when entering the workforce.
Across the board, companies find that new employees lack soft skills. In a recent survey conducted by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, NJBIA member companies reported having significant issues with the readiness of entry-level employees in the workplace. Specifically, 62 percent said entry-level workers had fair or poor verbal communications skills, 70 percent said they had fair or poor critical thinking skills and 74 percent had fair or poor time management skills. Companies also expressed dissatisfaction with the way entry-level employees approached their jobs. Sixty-nine percent said such workers had fair or poor self-motivation and initiative, 57 percent said they had fair or poor punctuality, and 57 percent again cited a fair or poor attitude or work ethic.
Clearly there is a gap between what schools teach and what employers are looking for. That’s where Junior Achievement comes in. JA of New Jersey is dedicated to educating young people about business, economics and free enterprise. Through hands-on experience, JA helps young people understand the business of life by bringing the real world to students. JA partners with businesses and educators to help students understand their potential and to prepare them for the world of work. JA also provides in-school and after-school programs for K-12 students at no cost to the school.
The New Jersey Business & Industry Association has long supported the efforts of Junior Achievement, and we are especially encouraged about the potential of JA Career Success. Created in partnership with Accenture and Junior Achievement, JA Career Success equips students with the tools and skills required to earn and keep a job in high-growth career industries and to help close the workforce skills gap. Taught by individuals with real-world business experience, the students get firsthand knowledge about the types of skills that employers are looking for when evaluating potential candidates.
JA Career Success is taught by volunteers from local businesses and is aligned to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards, as well as the Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts. The program helps students improve their soft skills by teaching them to think critically and creatively, and how to effectively communicate and collaborate in the workplace.
JA Career Success teaches students how to identify their desired careers with jobs that are available in high-growth sectors. Students also learn how to conduct a job search, how best to respond to common interview questions and how positively building their own personal brand can translate into a rewarding career.
As the program looks to expand over the next few years, we urge businesses, both small and large, to participate and help ensure the vitality of New Jersey’s future workforce.
To learn more about how you can be a part of JA Career Success, e-mail Andrew Musick at firstname.lastname@example.org. NJB