Hard Work on Soft Skills: Creating a Culture of Work in Workforce Development

Ted Houghton
Tony Proscio
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Public/Private Ventures
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This publication describes approaches used by four workforce development programs to prepare their participants for the cultural demands of the workplace. Achieve, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, YMCA of Greater Boston/Training, Inc. and Op-Net offer pre-employment classes. All four programs have different approaches and serve different populations with the same goal of success in the workplace for their learners. Employers look for more than job skills when hiring. Students that only develop hard skills may be as hard to employ as those who learn no skills at all. There is the need for the new hire to fit the culture of the workplace. Employers can train new hires in specific job tasks but do not address soft skills. This report examines ways to teach work ethic, courtesy, teamwork self-discipline, self-confidence, appropriate dress and language proficiency. All of the programs strive to teach the student to understand the employer’s position. Also described in this report are the short and long-term supports in place to help remove some of the barriers for the participants. Support services and soft skills complement each other. The final section summarizes six lessons that practitioners can use with any population to complement the hard skills they teach.

  1. Integrate soft skills into every element of the curriculum.
  2. Create work or work-like tasks and establish teams to complete them.
  3. Put trainees in the employer’s role from time to time so that by managing they can learn to be managed.
  4. Establish the discipline of the workplace in all aspects of the program.
  5. Recreate the physical environment of work to the fullest extent possible.
  6. Give participants many opportunities to get to know successful people.
Required Training


What the experts say

The resource is useful as a training tool for program staff development. Although individual instructors will find it helpful, the greatest benefit would occur from program planning using the resource as a guide. As the field of adult literacy and basic education becomes more focused on workforce development and successful transitions to training, postsecondary education and work, the integration of soft skills becomes increasingly important as a core component of programming. The four programs that are analyzed in the resource have successfully integrated soft skills training and not simply relegated soft skills as a stand-alone component. The instructional themes that underlie all the programs are attention to details (such as in students’ dress and behavior), teamwork (learning to rely on peers), self-discipline (in managing the demanding and sometimes conflicting work/school demands), and seeing themselves through the eyes of an employer.

The Lessons and Principles section provided includes the above guidelines.  It also stresses the importance of support services. Students can’t be expected to learn at an optimum if their children are not cared for in a safe environment, as example. The financial support provided to students in one program was attractive although details on the funding source were not provided.

All four programs profiled used simulations of the workplace to teach and practice soft and technical (or hard) skills in business settings. The simulations appear to replicate workplaces down to minute details. The program descriptions are full of detail and contact information is included in the report.