Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

Is It Time to Revisit High School Course Requirements?

When we speak to educators and administrators at various conferences around the country, one of the questions we invariably ask is:

“How many of your schools have defined a well prepared graduate for life?”

Sadly, we’ve yet to see more than 10% of audience members respond affirmatively. Of those, comparatively few admit that their school has a specific pathway to build these required skills.

At the same time, out in the “real world,” we find that:

  1. Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
  2. The US ranked 19th out of 28 countries in college completion in 2012, according to an OECD study1. (It ranked first as recently as 1995.)
  3. Colleges are reporting significant increases in student visits to their counseling centers, citing factors such as depression and anxiety.

It is apparent from multiple perspectives that we are falling short in preparing our children for independent life. While this is a complex challenge with many contributors, I’d like to share what I consider to be a primary source of the problems: the course requirements for high school graduation.

The US economy has changed dramatically in the past few decades, requiring different skills than before. Also, post-secondary education has become much more popular, which argues for greater advance preparation.  And, jobs for students during high school are more difficult to come by, limiting opportunities for valuable workplace skill development. In light of these factors, the question is whether our education requirements have appropriately adapted. Many believe they have not—and we agree.

At LifeSmart, we believe students need greater applied learning and skill development and practical preparation for independent living. This would significantly enhance both career- and life-readiness for our nation’s high school graduates.

While people may disagree on which courses deserve the status of a requirement (versus an elective), we believe the following would help address the skill gap:

  • College and Career Readiness: this would prepare students for their next education steps, as well as the four career mastery stages: exploring, qualifying, marketing, and excelling. Valuable perspectives from employers would be included.
  • Independent Living: this would offer students a clear glimpse into “life on their own,” including leadership, soft skills, relationship building, budgeting, and everyday living skills.
  • 21st Century Skills: this would help students build the analytical, problem solving, collaborative, and communication skills needed to succeed.
  • Personal Finance: this would include the basics of budgeting, banking, investing, credit, identity protection, insurance, car buying, and loan applications. (It would also improve our nation’s financial literacy!)
  • Entrepreneurship: this course would expose students to all aspects of creating and managing a business (and learning about capitalism in the process!). Knowing that most students will work in a business or organization, this would offer valuable insights into how the “real world” operates.
  • Communications: this course would include both verbal and written personal and professional communications. In today’s highly collaborative workforce, communication skills are a must. The casualness of contemporary communication has become a major impediment to many young people adapting to college and professional environments.

For some schools, this would involve converting existing electives into requirements, and others would involve new course offerings. Of course, it would be helpful to incorporate these practical skills in other classes where possible.

These are our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

4 Tips to Help Your High School Student Succeed

We just finished up an amazing week at the National Dropout Prevention Network conference in Detroit, MI. The LifeSmart team was able to share our perspective on what we can do as educators, mentors, and parents to help set teens up for success and graduate high school with their peers. Consequentially, we’ve got high school graduation on our minds—even if Halloween hasn’t yet arrived!

Are you a parent or a teacher of high schoolers? Have you ever wondered what YOU can do to prevent the potential of your students’ dropping out, or how you can equip your student for optimum success? Unfortunately, one million kids leave school every year without a diploma. We’d like to share with you our top four ways to equip high school students for success and help them cross the graduation finish line.

  1. Instill resilience. Let’s face it. Life gets difficult. And it can be especially difficult for students who are dealing with struggles at home (broken families, drugs and alcohol, emotional/verbal/physical abuse), or who come from a low-income background. One of the most important qualities for young people to embody is resilience; learning to handle adversity with courage, integrity, and determination. Take time to talk with your teen about obstacles (because that’s exactly what they are, obstacles—not derailers!) and the importance of overcoming them, growing from them, and, ultimately, becoming an “inspirational encourager” to others who are facing similar challenges. Always be mindful of what other side to today’s valley might look like..
  2. Cultivate your relationship. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your student, especially if you notice the dropout “warning signs.” Take time to talk and learn what makes him/her tick. Are they feeling alone? Is there a certain subject they just don’t get? Are they overwhelmed with too many commitments? Position yourself as an ally—someone who can be trusted—and cultivate a relationship of trust, acceptance, and encouragement with your teen. And, while you’re at it, always seek opportunities to affirm their uniqueness and value. It’s a powerful way to build hope and belief in themselves and their future. They’ll never forget you for it.
  3. Rely on community resources. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village.” It’s true! Without the wider community supporting the schools, and without parents and schools relying on resources within the community, success would be hard to come by. There are great organizations out there (like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and more) that can help your student make friends, bond to other positive influences, and stay on track. Also, encourage them to identify their interests and passions, to offer a glimpse of what their future can look like. It builds motivation, too.
  4. Make sure your child is surrounded with positive influences. Remember, your student needs to have other wise and encouraging voices in their life other than their parents and teachers. In fact, research shows that each student needs at least five adults in their life who are there to offer support, wisdom, advice, trust, and encouragement. Sometimes kids listen to non-parent voices the best! The same goes for their friends. If you notice your student is hanging around with the wrong crowd, or tapping into destructive media influences, address it immediately.

 

Our students are our future—and their success is of utmost importance. Let’s position ourselves as their safety net and rally around them with the support the need to ensure their graduation and life success.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.

 

Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”

 

Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.