Thursday, May 27, 2021

"Soft" Skills and Work-Based Learning

By Dean Graziano

I recently had a conversation about and how our materials hit upon those important employers-demanded "soft skills," specifically critical thinking, collaboration, self-reliance, and creativity. Having a past life as a Work-Based Learning Specialist at the New Hampshire Department of Education, I shared what I believe work-based learning is and how it all seems to fit in both career technical education and core classes.

Work-based learning (WBL) opportunities are categorized in a hierarchy. WBL is the umbrella term under which opportunities such as job shadows, internships, mentoring, apprenticeships, business tours, and informational/career exploration interviews fall. The key to WBL is a continuum of classroom knowledge, along with experience in a real-world occupational setting. All stakeholders must develop and deploy the common definition of what constitutes each type of work-based learning experience and have consistent experiences and opportunities along the continuum of possibilities – no matter where they live in the state.

A career path leading to credentialing may be defined as the path one takes in the progeny of sequences, real-world exposure, and experiences for both short and long-term goals. One may have a simple linear path, with a direct connection to the right career, or others may be tangential – allowing for several choices that occur as a career pathway may change. In short, work-based learning is a partnership between schools and employers offering all students opportunities for a practical educational experience, including real-world occupational settings, to expand career options.

Today more than ever, the focus on workforce development centers on the upcoming worker – aka today's students. Businesses want employees who are on time, communicate well, work as a team, and solve problems. Educational institutions want to provide businesses with students who knock those attributes out of the park. The way to create this future workforce is work-based learning that builds partnerships – bringing education and businesses together. has a plethora of resources that instill critical thinking and give students the tools to listen and respond to those with a varying viewpoint in a civil setting. Add to that the almost national cry for a financial literacy curriculum in our schools as early as second grade, and the discussion became focused on a few of our materials that address these concerns, no matter what post-secondary career path a student finds themselves on.

First, our Financial Literacy educational unit does a great job of addressing why it is important. It explains that once you understand concepts like debt, budget, etc., and planning and preparing to have financial & mental wellness, you end up with less stress and more success. Our educational unit, Where Did My Money Go?, provides a great introduction for teenagers on how taxes take a bite out of earnings. But it's more than just income taxes, unemployment, and other payroll taxes. People often forget that taxes are everywhere! The phone bill, the gas pump, an airline ticket, things we buy...taxes, taxes, taxes! Another resource I shared was Morality in the Marketplace, asking the questions: how do YOU decide where and why you place your money? Further discussion points involved asking, "How does economic freedom affect ordinary people, and what does it mean to vote with your dollars/wallet?"
Again, whatever career pathway is taken, these are vital life skills. izzit time you checked us out?