‘Soft skills’ training discussed

Published 6:08 pm Saturday, May 9, 2015

By Cain Madden

Special to the News-Herald


Although Bobby Cutchins of Bobby’s Tire and Auto Care recognizes the need for employees with technical skills, there is another set of skills he’d like to see developed for workers applying to his business.

“We need people to come out ready to work,” Cutchins told Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois at a town hall meeting in Franklin for business and industry leaders. “They need to be able to make eye contact with the customers and understand basic etiquette. They need to be able to count change back, and to treat people like they’d want to be treated.”

DuBois said that all around the state, and particularly in the rural horseshoe to which Franklin belongs, he hears about entry-level applicants coming out lacking the soft skills.

“They don’t show up on time,” he said. “They are not giving it 100 percent, they don’t work well with others, and you can’t ask them to be innovators.”

Virginia is sort of two states. There is the urban base along the coast and the D.C. metro — the golden crescent. Then there is the rest of the state, the Eastern Shore, jumping Hampton Roads and picking back up around Franklin and heading to the mountains — the rural horseshoe.

If the golden crescent were its own state, it would rank No. 2 in educational attainment, as 47 percent have at least an associate’s degree and only 10 percent of adults did not graduate from high school.

On the other hand, the rural horseshoe, with its population of 2.2 million, would rank dead last in the union, with just 27 percent having at least an associate’s degree and 19 percent of adults having failed to graduate from high school.

“Virginia looks really good in the big picture,” DuBois said. “It consistently ranks as one of the best places to raise your kids, the best state to do business and the best state to retire, which I hope to do some day.

“I think I have traveled every road in the commonwealth, and that picture is uneven. The picture of success is very uneven.”

Offering a certificate for those soft skills is one thing that DuBois said the system could do, as teachers could certify that students show up on time, put in effort and showcase some of the other soft skills.

These skills are part of the puzzle, but another piece is the value parents and students place on bachelor’s degrees.

Herb DeGroft, a former member of the Isle of Wight County Public School Board, said it blew his mind when a principal told him that the assumption was every student would go to college.

“I said, ‘You have to be out of your mind. Around 50 percent don’t make it,’” DeGroft said.

A student from a family of teachers decided that he wouldn’t go to college. Instead, he’d look at the power plant in Surry and see what he could do.

“Today, without spending 10 years beyond high school, he’s a fully qualified control operator making six figures,” DeGroft said. “That’s the kind of initiative we need, but it has to start at the family level, and how do we undo two generations of brainwashing about having to go to college?”

“Our career coaches need to be full time,” DuBois said. “They need to at least work with ninth graders, and I say go back further than that. We need to work on career interests, as by the time young people are getting to college, they still don’t know. They usually just settle by default on something.”