Soft-skills key to success

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Jennifer Saffrey joins in the actitivity to pick the top three priorities for the newly revamoed community education plan for Diamond Jenness Secondary School Nov. 28.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Jennifer Saffrey joins in the actitivity to pick the top three priorities for the newly revamoed community education plan for Diamond Jenness Secondary School Nov. 28.

After a few hours of group work, about 30 community members and educators came to the conclusion that what young people need most is work ethic, communication skills and life skills.

But that was the easy part. Now someone has to figure out how to teach those things.

“When we, as teachers, went through this exercise this morning, half the board was full of life skills, soft skills,” said vice-principal Lynne Beck of Diamond Jenness Secondary School. “From a teacher’s perspective, we focus on the curriculum. We are a very data-driven, results-driven, society.”

For the twice-annual community education planning day, members of the community — employers, parents and students — were invited to the secondary school for a two hour session to tell the school what they felt was lacking in its graduates. This followed a similar session with only teachers and staff present the same day, but essentially reflected the same concerns.

“Students, they learn how to work the computers very quickly — quicker than a 40- or 50-year old,” said Super A Foods owner Steve Anderson. “But what they can’t do is have a conversation with an adult. That’s the kind of life skill that’s really difficult to teach in schools.”

Other common complaints were young employees not showing up on time for work, and once there, spending far too much time on their phones. Other skills, including basic job-related communication, were also deemed lacking.

“Many young people, and many adults, can’t write a resume,” said Leanne Clouthier, who works for the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority. “They flop the interview, they don’t read the job description, and they come in just looking for a paycheck. They say they want to work at the hospital, they don’t care what the job is, they just want to work at the hospital.”

Despite voicing their problems as local employers, attendees also acknowledged the difficulty of teaching soft-skills in a classroom setting, especially when they are not necessarily reinforced at home. However, there was a consensus among both community members and educators that the lack of consequences in the school system is not doing students any favours.

“As far as being able to teach work ethic in school, it gets down to things like extending deadlines. That doesn’t work in the real world,” said Trudy Walsh, referring to the administration’s policy that requires teachers to accept assignments right up until the last day of term and not take marks off, regardless of whether the work was originally due in September. “You have to take their age and abilities into account, of course, and not overload them, but they also have to have consequences.”

Beck agreed and said the policy was handed down by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and implemented with the best intentions.

“There was a directive from ECE that teachers have to give multiple opportunities for students to show their learning,” she explained, adding that the idea was for young people to develop their own study and work habits and allow them to do their best work.

The theory, however, has not worked quite as planned, and Beck said there is talk of changing how the school and others operate in this regard.

“There’s a pendulum that has swung here,” said Tim Borchuck, fellow vice-principal at the school. “It used to be we had very strict direction, and now things have swung the other way, with kids encouraged to learn in their own way. Maybe it has to swing back a little bit now.”

–Sarah Ladik