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Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in Workforce Development: Building Soft Skills

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in Workforce Development: Building Soft Skills

Many job prospects, particularly for teens aged 14 to 18, have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be very frustrating, creating a feeling of hopelessness about next steps. For some teens, the impacts from the pandemic may hurt family income and the ability to save for college; and for others, the impacts affect spending money or the chance to gain a sense of independence over one’s own life. So, what should these teens do? During times like these when things feel out of control, what do these students and recent graduates have control over?

Using this shelter-in-place time to focus on building social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that will ultimately impact their chances of standing out in a densely populated hiring pool is a good place for students to start. Things like self-awareness and good communication can be considered SEL skills, but they also fall under the category of soft skills. The importance of these “soft skills” in future success can be seen in the U.S. Department of Education Employability Skills Framework. Additionally, a recent Forbes article highlights five traits for successful leaders. Four of these can be tied directly to the SEL competencies outlined by CASEL, the key organization behind driving standards for academic and social-emotional learning. 

Educators continue to invest in readying the leaders of the future, so let’s look at some of the top soft skills noted by Forbes and translate that information into steps that teachers can take to build them virtually.

1. Social Intelligence

Social intelligence, often referred to as emotional intelligence (or EQ), includes fundamental SEL skills such as the ability to know yourself and to name and regulate your emotions. It also includes the use of relationship and decision-making skills, as well as social awareness. More specifically, social intelligence can translate into the ability to receive feedback, listen, communicate with others, notice others’ emotions, take a different perspective, and apologize when wrong.

To build social intelligence, educators can create opportunities for students to name their emotions and debrief the effect that the emotions have on a situation, response, or outcome.

Sample Activity:

  • Ask students what’s been going on around them and how others might be feeling
  • Have students talk about why they feel a certain way and whether they notice different perspectives
  • Ask students to generate suggestions for what they might change to address their own needs and those of others around them

These activities helps students build self-awareness and empathy for those around them. Building the skill of social intelligence is helpful for any age group.

2. Creativity

Creativity does not just apply to the arts. It includes the ability to generate new ideas and out-of-the-box solutions and address everyday problems in ways that allow for innovation and growth. Creativity is not only an important skill in the workforce, but it is also a helpful one to have for facing challenges with resilience in any environment.

One way to build creativity is to practice looking at a situation through multiple lenses. To start with, take a problem or situation from real life or a character in a book and have a brainstorming session. Challenge students to think of new or innovative ways to solve the issue. Get them using their imagination. For younger students, you can have them picture the world as an ant or as a bird.

Sample Activity:

  • Ask students to picture their vison of what they want to do or be
  • Have students think about the different paths that people have taken to get there
  • Talk about the fact that one path is not “better” than another
  • Have students think about the skills they need to reach their goal
  • Ask students figure out a creative way to build that skill while they are waiting
  • Help students tell a story about the creative way they worked on achieving their goals that they can share with future employers
3. Digital Literacy

Although it is not directly a soft skill, as we have found in the COVID-19 pandemic, digital literacy is essential. It is also the platform through which we can show some of our SEL skills. Even if the job a student gets is offline, more and more job interviews are being conducted online. Employers are looking at every detail in the online presentation.

Sample Activity:

  • Have students research places where they would like to work and the skills needed in that field or role
  • Practice preparing students for an interview by asking what will help them present their best selves
  • Build questions that students want to ask the interviewer
  • Use your virtual interaction with students to have them “see what the camera sees”
  • Conduct a practice interview, and if you can, have them record it and play it back
  • Debrief the interview with students

While the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many things upside down, if we are creative, we can take advantage of the change in perspective to help students build other skills that are essential to their success.  Interested in learning more? Take a look at a few strategies to help regulate our emotions and soothe ourselves when things in our environment feel out of our control.

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Jen Perry

Jen Perry currently serves as the Director, Whole Learning and SEL at Edmentum. Jen joined Edmentum as the Learning Designer for Social-Emotional Learning after 30+ years of work with youth in educational and community settings. As a teacher, administrator, and trainer, her passion has been to help educators develop an understanding of the importance of social and emotional learning and build trauma-informed responses and systems. This work has included supporting youth, administrators, and schools in understanding behavior and implementing transformational change through strength-based approaches.