Career Readiness:
Coaching & Soft skills Program


OVERVIEW

The Career Readiness Pilot Project (CRP) targets parents receiving support through the Temporary Aid for Needy Families WorkFirst program (TANF) by combining a sector-based training and education program with life and career coaching. The goal of the program is to help parents who are returning to TANF to leave better prepared to pursue family-sustaining careers.  Driving principles in the project include :

  • Leverage existing programs and coordination of services at no additional cost.
  • Unite stakeholders from the community, workforce, education and many industry sectors to identify ways to enhance existing services.
  • Facilitate service delivery through a dedicated coach who provides continuity and support to the parent pursuing training and job goals.
  • Employ a sector-informed approach, pairing parents with training for high-demand jobs that offer greater financial opportunity and stability.
  • Uphold a focus on executive and interpersonal skills that inform and prepare parents for workplace functions and contribute to family well-being.

 

Designing An Intervention that builds soft skills

While emphasis on certain employabilty qualities, or soft skills, varies by employment sector, this pilot project incorporates a common employer focus on job-oriented problem solving, communication, and collaboration.  Because current soft skills development consists of interventions misaligned with employer needs, we teamed up with one of the pilot partners, WA Department of Commerce, to design a "soft skills" and "life skills" component for the overall project .  The design focus for this component of the Career Readiness Pilot Program will offer improved consistency in the implementation, structure, and method of developing soft skills that ensure participants can obtain, sustain and grow into a career of their choice.

 

career & life coaching

The Career & Life Coaching Program  alters the trajectory of adults who have previously faced challenges to attaining long-term, family-sustaining employment.  Career & Life Coaches partner with parents who have returned to TANF to help them identify, set, and achieve goals on the path to career readiness and financial self-sufficiency. The coach-parent relationship is a collaborative and extended working partnership, driven by parent goals. To aid accountability, service integration, and communication, coaches also meet regularly with other case managers and staff who are simultaneously providing services to parents.

 

what we know about soft skills programs in Washington

We found after interviewing staff from community organizations in several counties around the state that soft skills are addressed mostly through what practitioners refer to as "life skills" courses, not soft skills. These courses are inconsistently offered, short term, and vary widely in content and focus. Staff also shared that "soft skills" (note the interchangeable use of the term with life skills) develop in an incidental fashion. Case managers in particular mentioned that soft skill development occurs in a variety of ways: at the transitional job site; through case management; and within job search and life skills activities.  The inconsistency in how soft skills development is addressed emphasizes the need for a consistent definition and structure that aligns with employer interests.

Looking at how development of soft skills is addressed nationally also yields an inconclusive picture.  Most employer-focused soft skills programs are delivered by for-profit enterprises, and are combined with assessments linked to specific skills trained in the program. While some programs show that training increases scores (on their own assessments), few offer evidence of impact on career and employment outcomes.  What we know is that soft skill development is not an end in itself, but its value is found through increased interpersonal and career success. These programs are expensive to administer and assess, and they offer little concrete evidence that the programs increase the employment outcomes that actually matter, in part, because these skills are entrenched in mindsets and patterns of response, largely unconscious and instinctual.

 

Role of executive function in coaching

Researchers are showing greater links between poverty and decision making, particularly when it comes to executive function.  Executive function and trauma are at the root of soft skills, and any promising soft skill development program must be informed by executive function and trauma perspectives.  Also, information does not equal integration. Soft skills courses that provide information, tips, and strategies are helpful, but the integration of what we know about the impact of poverty requires opportunities for problem-based practice and acknowledgment of trauma behind life barriers. To address the ingrained nature of soft skills, repetition and pressure of real-world interactions are imperative for newly taught skills to replace old response patterns. Finally, assessments must be developed that track the impact of soft skills training on long term career and employment outcomes.