You might have heard the saying, “people are hired for hard skills and fired for soft skills.” Soft skills such as critical thinking, interpersonal relationships, stress management, self-confidence, and teamwork, may seem obvious to many of us who have spent decades in the workforce, but for a young adult with a disability, soft skills can be a hidden untapped asset. Additionally, with the much discussed “soft skills gap” looming over today’s workforce, it’s never too early for employers to begin investing in potential future employees with disabilities through mentoring and apprenticeship programs that promote soft skills development over hard skills they will learn in school.
By the time someone has graduated from college, if they are lucky enough to be among the 32% with a college degree, they have been in the education system for close to 16 years or more. Of those 16 years, the majority of what we learn as students are the hard skills of business, law, science, technology, economics, and hundreds of other disciplines. Soft skills are notoriously difficult to teach in an educational setting and employers are increasingly voicing concerns that the education system of today is not training up the workers of tomorrow with the necessary soft skills that can help them succeed as professionals.
Luckily, there are solutions to the soft skills gap and young adults with disabilities are especially poised to benefit from some of these opportunities. In 2016, my team at Scarantino Consulting partnered with several major companies who served as mentors to students with disabilities in a month-long business project. The students collaborated in teams to solve business challenges provided by the mentors and were able to experience what life might be like working for one of these employers. Keep in mind that the business projects the students collaborated on were not simulations or theoretical challenges, but actual situations the businesses were facing with real implications for their employees and customers.
What do you think was the most valuable part of their month-long apprenticeship? It wasn’t the lessons on business process, project management, strategic marketing, finance or innovation, but the soft skills they were learning along the way as a team. Essentially, we weren’t only teaching the students how to apply Doblin’s 10 Types of Innovation to large scale business challenges, they were undergoing a type of soft skills “boot camp” in an immersive environment that encouraged experimentation, curiosity, and creativity. Students from backgrounds as diverse as criminal justice, business administration, graphic design, and psychology completed the program with a deeper understanding of the value of soft skills in their careers.
It is my hope that these types of mentoring and apprenticeship programs for young adults with disabilities grow exponentially throughout the U.S. over the coming years. Not only are these programs badly needed, they are highly beneficial to young adults with disabilities entering the workforce as well as employers who want to engage their employees as mentors. I’m thrilled to contribute to this movement through custom-designed apprenticeship programs in my consulting practice and would encourage you as an employer or young adult with a disability to seek out and participate in one of these programs. It can be a tremendous growth opportunity and serve as a win-win for both employer and prospective employee.