Soft Employment Skills Must Be Taught in High School

We all hear about the need for countless more highly skilled workers in America. This need for highly skilled workers is a reality due to the need to replace boomers and the increasing complexity in the workplace. However, most people do not recognize what are equally essential– soft employment skills. In 1980, the Secretary of Labor brought together a group of major business leaders and created the first official set of soft employment skills called the SCAN Skills. The business leaders explained that 90 percent of the people who were fired in America because of a lack of sufficient soft employment skills. The American business community wanted to define soft employment skills so the schools could teach the skills, particularly to prevent young people from having problems in the workplace. Prevention is always better than attempting to fix a problem after the fact.

What are the soft employment skills that the business community wants high schools to teach? There are skills young people don’t learn on their own, families don’t teach, and the high schools do not teach anymore. However, they are extremely important in order to work in America today. First, young people must understand that they must be on time for work all the time. Our youth must learn to leave and return on time for breaks and lunches all of the time. They must work well with people of different gender, race, religion, and sexual preference. Inappropriate sexual references, racial references, and gay references are not acceptable—period. In addition, they must work well in teams of all kinds of people in a respectful manner. Basic math and reading and writing skills are essential. Employers expect employees to use proper language at all times. They must exercise proper hygiene and wash themselves and their clothes frequently. The newest soft employment skill is to avoid using cell phones at work. Company time is not to be used to text, have personal conversations on the phone, or to play games. Obviously, there will always be the rare emergency that is an exception where cell phones may be appropriately used. The operative word here is emergency. There certainly may be additional behaviors where young people may need instruction about appropriate behavior in the workplace. These soft skills may sound basic to many people, but employers have been complaining for many years that American young people lack these skills. Employees who do not possess these soft skills cause business stress, wasted time, and necessitate counseling and firing of employees.

These soft employment skills are not nice to have. They’re essential. Employers expect these skills and behaviors from employees prior to coming to work. They are minimal expectations. When young people do not meet employer’s soft skill expectations, they are in trouble. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t teach these expectations. The school system pretends that employment after high school has nothing to do with its educational responsibility. Thus, the kids leave high school with no understanding of soft employment skills or what the consequences of not having them will be. This is one of the failures of the American school system.

Career academies, however, teach soft employment skills as part of their curriculum. This is one of the hard to measure benefits of career academies over traditional high schools. Career academies have students for four school years and 900 hours of career technical education to instill serious technical and soft employment skills. The entire culture of career academies supports learning and practicing soft employment skills. Instead of ignoring postsecondary employment, career academies entire focus is about preparing youth to perform in a real job.

Learning soft employment skills benefits young people immediately in their employment and also for the rest of their lives. These skills certainly benefit young people outside of employment as well. The significance of these behaviors must not be underestimated. They make a difference in peoples lives when they are young and continue to help them throughout their lives. The reality is that these skills are not difficult and many of us take them for granted. However, when young people are ignorant of these skills and do not practice these skills, they turn into terrible job losses that too frequently lead to crime and prison. Career academies prevent crime and prison by being proactive and by teaching soft employment skills in the context of teaching technical employment skills while young people are still in high school.

It is past time for our high schools to accept responsibility for teaching both technical and soft employment skills. Apparently, traditional high schools cannot teach either technical skills or soft skills. Thus, it is time to establish career academies in our high schools that provide this extremely important instruction.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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