Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills

Today parents are worried more than ever of their children approaching adulthood and their future. You as a parent want to know what you can do to help your daughters and sons to decide on a career, support their job hunting, and succeed in the workplace.

You can help your son or daughter by working with and encouraging youth to develop soft skills that are important in all aspects of life. Soft skills help youth succeed in life no matter what they are doing.

By improving these skills, your teenboy or a teengirl or a student will be able to enhance his or her social life, do better in postsecondary studies, and be more successful at finding and maintaining employment.

Why is this important?

Learning soft skills is a process. They are necessary for youth to succeed in education, job training, independent living, community participation, and, ultimately, in the workplace. Current and obviously outdated education system assume that children learn soft skills at home, such as that schools are not teching such skills. Unfortunately, this approach means that most of the youth will not have developed these important skills by the time they leave high school.

Consequently, a large percentage of young people preparing to enter the workforce are significantly lacking in the “soft” or applied skills such as communication or a decision-making, that will help them become effective employees and managers.


Soft skills refer to a broad set of skills, competencies, behaviors, attitudes, and personal qualities that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals. These skills are broadly applicable and complement other skills such as technical, vocational, and academic skills.

Which skills do they need to succeed?

Communication Skills and be able to:

  • Read with understanding
  • Clearly convey Ideas -verbally and in writing
  • Speak so that others can understand
  • Listen actively
  • Observe critically

Interpersonal Skills and be able to:

  • Lead others
  • Advocate and influence
  • Negotiate
  • Resolve conflict
  • Cooperate with others

Lifelong Learning Skills and be able to:

  • Take responsibility for learning
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Learn through research
  • Use ICT (Information and Communications Technology)

Decision Making Skills and be able to:

  • Solve problems and communicate
  • Solve problems and make decisions
  • Plan
Set of soft skills you can learn

Communication skills

Communication Communication skills are ranked FIRST among a job candidate’s “must have” skills and qualities. Communication skills are important to everyone – they are how we give and receive information and convey our ideas and opinions with those around us.

Communication comes in many forms:
• verbal (sounds, language, and tone of voice)
• aural (listening and hearing)
• non-verbal (facial expressions, body language, and posture)
• written (journals, emails, blogs, and text messages) • visual (signs, symbols, and pictures)

It is important to develop a variety of skills for both communicating TO others and learning how to interpret the information received FROM others. Knowing our audience and understanding how they need to receive information is equally important as knowing ourselves.

To an employer, good communication skills are essential. In fact, employers consistently rank good communication skills at the top of the list for potential employees.

Enthusiasm and Attitude

Do you know what is the difference between “You’re hired!” and “Thank you for your interest, but…”? The difference is in a very small but an important word : enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm can mean the difference in not just getting a job, but succeeding in a job and even advancing in your career. A positive and enthusiastic attitude is a critical component of workplace success. Having a positive attitude in the workplace can help with potential promotions. Employers promote employees who not only produce, but also motivate others in the workplace.

When employers look at prospective candidates, beyond skills, experience, and training, they look for those who demonstrate enthusiasm – those they believe will complete assigned tasks in an upbeat and cooperative manner. All other things being equal, a candidate who can demonstrate a positive attitude and eagerness to tackle the job will have an advantage over one who displays an attitude viewed by the employer as negative or disinterested. In fact, many employers would rather provide job skills training to an enthusiastic but inexperienced worker than hire someone with perfect qualifications but a less than positive attitude.

Managers sometimes worry that this type of person will not get along with supervisors and co-workers, treat customers disrespectfully, and not put much effort into his or her work. On the other hand, employees who are viewed as enthusiastic are known to provide good customer service, resolve interpersonal conflict effectively, and work productively with others.

A positive attitude is an “I can” attitude. Young people with real or perceived barriers to employment (such as those who struggle academically possibly due to a learning or other disability, have been in and out of foster homes, have dropped out of school) may not have experienced enough success to feel or demonstrate this attitude. Regardless of the challenges young people have conquered, developing and displaying a positive attitude will often help them to surpass their peers in many aspects of life.

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

Everyone experiences problems from time to time. Some of our problems are big and complicated, while others may be more easily solved. There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. Whether in an office or on a construction site, experiencing difficulties with the tasks at hand or with coworkers, the workplace presents ongoing challenges on a daily basis. Whether these problems are large or small, they need to be dealt with constructively and fairly. Having the necessary skills to identify solutions to problems is one of the skills that employers look for in employees.

Problem solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to use knowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. This doesn’t mean you need to have an immediate answer, it means you have to be able to think on your feet, assess problems and find solutions. The ability to develop a well thought out solution within a reasonable time frame, however, is a skill that employers value greatly.

Employers want employees who can work through problems on their own or as an effective member of a team. Ideal employees can think critically and creatively, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment, and make decisions. As a new employee, you may question why an organization follows certain steps to complete a task. It may seem to you that one of the steps could be eliminated saving time, effort, and money. But you may be hesitant to voice your opinion.

Employers are usually appreciative when new employees are able to offer insight and fresh perspective into better and more efficient ways of doing things. It is important to remember, however, that as someone new to the organization, you may not always have the full picture, and thus there may be factors you are unaware of that dictate that things be done in a particular way. Another important thing to remember is that when you are tasked with solving a problem, you don’t always need to answer immediately.

Building self-determination skills, such as goal setting, decision-making, self-advocacy, and problem solving should be included in career planning for all youth.


Throughout our working lives, most of us will have many different jobs, each requiring a different level or set of skills. No matter what jobs all of them have one thing in common: in order to succeed and move ahead, you need to demonstrate professionalism, that does not mean wearing a suit or carrying a briefcase. It rather means conducting oneself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. Furthermore, it means communicating effectively and appropriately and always finding a way to be productive.

As today’s labor market becomes more and more competitive, jobseekers will need to continually find ways to stand out from the crowd. There are few things an employer values more than employees who carry out their duties in a professional manner. Professionalism isn’t one thing; it’s a combination of qualities. A professional employee arrives on time for work and manages time effectively. Professional workers take responsibility for their own behavior and work effectively with others. High quality work standards, honesty, and integrity are also part of the package. Professional employees look clean and neat and dress appropriately for the job.

Communicating effectively and appropriately for the workplace is also an essential part of professionalism. This skill is not an easy skill to develop, since it is the make-up of many different skills all “mushed” together and tends to take years of experience to perfect. Young people need an environment where they feel safe enough to make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, and have opportunities (and the encouragement) to try again. It is by offering a safe environment along with encouragement that all youth can succeed and develop their own personal style of professionalism.


Teamwork is an essential part of workplace success. Like a football team working together to set up the perfect shot, every team member has a specific role to play in accomplishing tasks on the job. Although it may seem as if one player scored the goal, that goal was made possible by many people’s planning, coordination, and cooperation to get that player the ball. Employers look for people who not only know how to work well with others, but who understand that not every player on the team can or will be the one who gets the ball. When everyone in the workplace works together to accomplish goals, everyone achieves more.

Teamwork involves building relationships and working with other people using a number of important skills and habits:

• Communication (both giving and receiving)
• Healthy respect for different opinions, customs, and individual preferences
• Sense of responsibility
• Working cooperatively
• Contributing to groups with ideas, suggestions, and effort
• Ability to participate in group decision-making

Learning the value of teamwork and becoming an effective member of a team is an important first step to developing leadership skills. For disconnected youth, especially those with underlying disabilities, the development of these skills is critical. Young people without a connection to work or school typically have had limited exposure to positive and proactive support systems, or a true sense of the essence of the proactive support of a community. Affording young people experiences through which they learn to rely on themselves and others is an important factor in the development of a productive teamwork mentality. If working with disconnected youth and/or youth with disabilities, use these activities to bridge teamwork skills as a stepping-stone to leadership development


When it comes to finding a job, you’ve got to network! In other words, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This common expression is the basis for understanding the importance of networking as a strategy for career development and exploration. Everyone has a network, even if you don’t realize it, and when it comes to job searching, this network may be just as important as your skills and experience. A personal network is that group of people with whom you interact every day – family, friends, parents of friends, friends of friends, neighbors, teachers, bosses, and co-workers. With these people, information and experiences are exchanged for both social and potential professional reasons. Networking occurs every time you participate in a school or social event, volunteer in the community, visit with members of your religious group, talk with neighbors, strike up a conversation with someone at the store, or connect with friends online.

Developing networking skills is important for all youth, but particularly for those with limited work experiences, which is unfortunately often the case for youth with disabilities. By creating opportunities whereby young people can research, talk to, and network with those working in careers of interest, the more likely they will be able to make informed choices regarding their future.

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