Urban Alliance releases recommendations for employer-school partnership to bridge the growing soft skills gap

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Urban Alliance, a national youth development nonprofit, today released a white paper (executive summary here) laying out a set of recommendations for businesses and schools to work together to solve the growing soft skills gap threatening both students’ academic success and businesses’ bottom lines – a gap that will grow over the next decade as two-thirds of jobs are expected to be soft-skills-intensive by 2030.

The evidence is clear, the paper argues, that to survive and thrive in a rapidly-changing job market, workers will increasingly need transferable soft skills – skills that will enable them to succeed regardless of industry or sector and to effectively move from job to job. Meanwhile, the field of K-12 education is experiencing a similarly large shift as schools rethink what a diploma means in response to a mandate to prepare students with both the academic and soft skills needed to succeed in college and future careers. Urban Alliance posits that as employers and schools prepare for the future, they face some big unsolved challenges in training students and workers in the skills needed for future success – chief among them a growing soft skills gap exacerbated by under-investment in and unequal access to soft skills development.

The paper released today, “Who Will Succeed in Tomorrow’s Job Market? Bridging the Soft Skills Gap for a More Equitable Talent Pipeline,” recommends that the most effective and efficient way for businesses and schools to work together to bridge the soft skills gap is borrowing from each other’s strengths using the following strategies:

  1. Partnering to Provide Work-Based Learning Opportunities that Develop Soft Skills – The education sector has established that soft skills can be explicitly taught and developed through intentional learning environments rooted in relationships, settings, and contexts. However, the shift to the social and emotional learning framework that develops these skills has been slow, and neither businesses nor schools are set up to tackle this gap alone.
    1. Well-Designed Internships are Especially Effective at Soft Skill Building: Businesses and schools can partner right now on a ready-made, efficient solution to soft skills development – well-designed internships that use the principles of social and emotional learning to build soft skills through: (1) built-in training, (2) the opportunity for practice, repetition, and feedback on the job, (3) safe, nurturing learning environments that foster feelings of inclusiveness and acceptance, and (4) access to caring adult mentors who are responsible for learning and development.
  2. Seeking Out Existing Experts Within the Community – Turning to intermediaries that are already set up to manage all the moving parts of successful work-based learning – such as Urban Alliance and other nonprofits – can be the key to helping schools and businesses take the hard work out of investing in soft skills development.
  3. Adding Employability as a Measure of Success in High School – Only by establishing employability as a marker of success can school leaders coordinate and prioritize the development of the skills that would support it.
  4. Reinforcing Soft Skills Development in High School – High school is the last best chance to equip students with the skills needed for college or career success.
  5. Utilizing Best Practices from K-12 to Develop Soft Skills –To maximize soft skills training efforts, employers can borrow a page from the education sector’s established social and emotional learning research and recognize that the how of learning and development matters just as much as the what.
  6. Put Soft Skills Front and Center in Hiring – By rethinking the language of hiring to emphasize soft skills, however, employers can send an important signal, that soft skills development must be a priority for all stakeholders.

“Over more than two decades of youth workforce development, we know that well-designed internships are a low-risk/high-reward strategy for schools to develop career-ready students, for businesses to develop a skilled and diverse talent pipeline, and for youth to develop the skills they need to succeed after high school,” said Eshauna Smith, Urban Alliance CEO. “The education and business communities both need a better way to develop soft skills; working together to host internships is a proven, cost-effective strategy that can yield meaningful results in skill-building, equity, and business and academic performance. It’s a win-win situation for all stakeholders.”

With more than 20 years of experience providing workforce opportunities to thousands of economically-disadvantaged students in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Northern Virginia, and Detroit, Urban Alliance has improved post-high school outcomes for underserved youth. A recent six-year study found that completing UA’s High School Internship Program had a measurable impact on young men attending college, mid-GPA students enrolling in four-year colleges, and students’ development and retention of professional soft skills.

100 percent of UA students graduate from high school; over 90 percent are accepted to college, and 80 percent enroll in college. A further 80 percent of enrolled alumni persist to a second year in college, and 80 percent of all alumni are connected to a college, career, or career training pathway one year post-program. Urban Alliance released the first white paper in this series, “Job Training Starts Now: Why High School Students Need Youth Employment Opportunities,” in February 2018.