By Louisiana Fellow Jayda Spillers
My love for Career and Technical Education was planted by a former business teacher, Sharon Mock, at the small high school that I attended. Looking back, I now realize how she embedded workplace readiness skills within the business curriculums in which I participated. She often quoted Zig Ziegler and lessons from Dale Carnegie, and these stories and lessons helped shape my “people” skills as I began my first job, working in a doctor’s office, while a senior in high school. I loved the world of business and could not wait to go to college to pursue a business degree - later a business education degree as her influence was far reaching. The technical and non-technical skills that I learned in each of her business classes were my anchor as I had to work in order to pay my way through college. But, she had given me a strong foundation on which to build my future career aspirations, and this foundation which emphasized career readiness skills is what helped shaped my career pathway.
I worked in many business related jobs while working on my college degree (doctor’s office, banking, a small business development center, and a law office), and they each required a skill set that involved communication, critical thinking, problem solving, as well as other workplace ethics skills in order to be successful and maintain employment. After I became a business teacher, it was a natural process for me to embed these skills within my lessons. While a school-to-work coordinator, career readiness or “soft skills” as I addressed it within the Cooperative Office Education course I taught, was a priority topic that was presented within the first few weeks of school - before students became too entrenched within their work environments. I quickly learned that spending time on these topics assisted the students in maintaining healthy working relationships with co-workers and employers and was often the skill that would help them retain employment. Part of my responsibilities as the coordinator was to discuss with the individual employers any concerns they were having with students in these areas, then take their input back into the classroom and create lessons that would address the student deficits within these non-technical skills.
After moving into an administrative role at my district’s technical high school, my focus became more technically aligned as emphasis was placed on earning industry-based certifications within each technical field. Though our programs sought business and industry input regarding the technical curriculum, not much was mentioned regarding non-technical skills that were required to maintain employment. However, a few years ago, I was made aware of employer’s concerns over the lack of soft skills when I attended a meeting of manufacturers within the Northwest Louisiana region. As I listened to the employer’s discussion, I was stunned at how serious this issue had become, and the long-term effect on both employer and employee. As explained to me, technical skills were not the issue; it was the non-technical skills that were costing employees their jobs. The employers noted their specific concerns were showing up for work, being on time, conflict resolution, ethical issues, and passing drug screenings. These were the basic career readiness skills that my former business teacher had instilled in her business students, but were not being addressed within our current schools’ curriculums.
Within my administrative role, I realized this was an opportunity to address this deficit more purposefully within our curriculums in order to assist our students’ future aspirations and make a positive impact on our area’s economic system. With this knowledge, I was inspired to develop a “soft skills” program for my school. Through this plan, soft skills are now embedded within each CTE curriculum at the Bossier Parish School for Technology and Innovative Learning (BPSTIL) so students are exposed to on-the-job expectations and receive an evaluation each grading period over these employer expectations. However, these career readiness skill should not only be addressed when students reach high school and are enrolled in specific courses. It is the responsibility of all educators to address these skills as we prepare students for college and careers.
After attending the September Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship for 21st Century Learning conference, my mission of integrating technical with non-technical (career readiness) skills within the Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum has become more urgent. Our industry visits with Lucid and Ochsner Health in the New Orleans area solidified my understanding of what employers value in future employees and echoed the research that I have conducted on soft skills, personal visits with business and industry partners within the Bossier City area, and my background as a CTE educator. I am so proud to be a part of this fellowship and embarking on this journey to reach all students within the state of Louisiana through the shared vision of creating a new career readiness course for our students. I look forward to seeing how this curriculum will develop and the positive outcomes that this will have on our students’ future career aspirations. My mission is stronger as I work to promote real-world experiences in CTE in order to assist high school students in becoming college and career ready and meet the challenges of an ever-changing global society.