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March 1, 2014

A Word of Advice: It's never too early to work on soft skills

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The Daily Star

---- — If somebody on the street asks you your best characteristics, you’ll probably start telling them about how good you are with kids or how articulate you can be.

However, when you get asked about your qualifications, you’ll probably talk about your academic abilities and accomplishments.

The thing is, in many of today’s occupations, particularly ones teens would be involved, with that feature a lot of customer service work, so-called “soft skills” are more valuable than ever, and slowly, experiences are becoming just as valuable as academics.

Experiences and volunteer work have always been valuable when applying to colleges, but it’s important to remember what they can offer beyond filling lines on an application. Volunteer work, while also warming the heart, can also build solid skills in whatever type of work you’re doing, whether it be with people, animals or construction. Many of these skills aren’t ones that can be easily picked up in the classroom, at least directly, so it’s always worth it to step out once in a while and help those in need, while at the same time helping yourself, and building your future.

Schools offer many experiences similar to volunteer work in the ways they build soft skills and give teens real-world work experience that can be applicable to life after high school in many cases. Within the local area in particular, programs such as Votec and New Visions offer training and internships in things such as construction, medical treatment, law and government, and many other career fields that will make you stand out among other people hungry for higher schooling and job placement. More so than anything, though, they can let you see whether you actually want to invest your time and money into getting a degree toward working in a certain field. It might be valuable if you, for example, aspire to work as a nurse, however, find that in the New Visions you despise the large volume of bodily fluids and other nastiness involved and discover you would never want to make it a lifelong career path.

Even beyond building skills, taking up additional extracurricular responsibility makes one quality apparent to others more so than anything — initiative. Initiative shows that you’re the one who’s going to step up to the plate with things and get them done, which means more than anything to employers. It speaks to both your work ethic and your creativity and how well you can apply skills to make a difference. In pretty much all situations, it’s the thing that starts you in doing what you’re doing and keeps your drive going to get it done. So above all, initiative is the best thing you can show to anybody you’re trying to impress.

Next to initiative, another important soft skill is communication. Communication is what allows you to build relationships that will help you climb ladders, defuse tension in situations that could blow up in your face, and in general seem like a tolerable person to the people you’re working with and allow you to be a functional gear in the mechanical workplace. Many often say that it can be the people you know more than what you can do, and if there’s any truth to that, good communication skills will get you acquainted with plenty valuable personalities.

I haven’t even started to cover the vast amount of soft skills existent for you to master. If anything, take from this that everything you do, in the classroom or not, is carried with you throughout your life and at some point will become applicable to situations you will be placed in. Just remember to keep your mind open and your experiences varied to truly keep yourself “well-rounded” to tackle anything you may want to partake in in the future.

Austin Czechowski is a junior at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School. Would you like A Word of Advice from him? Send him an email at adviceaustin@gmail.com, or send him a letter to “Teen Talk: A Word of Advice,” C/O The Daily Star, P.O. Box 250, Oneonta, NY 13820. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk.