Generation Clueless

Yesterday I participated in a meeting at the Georgia Department of Education about the new career pathways. Next year, eighth graders in Georgia public schools must select a pathway from one of seventeen career clusters. The purpose of the meeting was to develop new courses for one of the pathways.

Our group consisted of teachers, industry representatives, and GADOE officials. The assignment was to develop the three courses that would make up the Customer Services pathway within the Human Services pathway. I represented consumer economics faculty from the University of Georgia.

We quickly agreed that the first course would focus on consumer decision-making, the second on consumer math, and the third on consumer economics. The second course would also count for a math credit, and the third would satisfy the requirement for a course in economics. The rest of our discussion revolved around various aspects of these three courses.

About halfway through the meeting, the discussion turned to soft skills. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of them. If you’re my age (give or take fifteen years), you probably have them in spades. Folks on the older side of that spread also have them, but these days probably have little use for them. Younger generations are totally clueless.

Soft skills are the things you need to know to keep a job. I’m talking about showing up on time, getting along with coworkers, dressing appropriately, having a good attitude, and taking pride in a job well done. They are also the area that employers across every industry claim are woefully  inadequate in the workers they hire today.

No, I’m not kidding. Seriously. I’m not.

The GADOE wants soft skills to be a vital part of every pathway. We spent a lot of time talking about how to incorporate these skills into the courses we’re developing. It soon became clear that the educational system itself is part of the problem. Every recommendation got shot down because of school policies.

One teacher explained that the nine-step process she has to follow means a student will not be written up for being tardy until the ninth time they show up late. That’s right. Nine strikes and you get written up. WTF?

Another talked about how time consuming it was to grade every students’ papers three times. At her school, if the student doesn’t get the assignment right the first time, they get two more chances. OMG!

The teachers offered example after example. Enforce the rules and the parents come a calling. Based on what I heard yesterday, the parents are even worse than the students. Stick to your guns and the parent goes over your head. Nine times out of ten, instead of backing up the teacher, the administrator caves in to the parent. The industry representatives around the room merely shook their heads, too stunned to speak.

These kids want to work, but on their own terms. They wear what they want, including multiple body piercings, several square feet of tattooed flesh, and rainbow-colored hair then get angry if an employer dares to suggest anything about the get up is inappropriate. They argue with coworkers–including bosses, come and go as they please, and are outraged when the employer fires or otherwise disciplines them.

Why? Because it’s what they’ve learned at home and at school. Mess with them and they’ll tell their parents on you…or worse.

Folks, what we have here is a serious problem. Shabby or nonexistent soft skills have become institutionalized. Need proof? Run into Walmart, big box stores of every flavor, any fast food outlet (except for Chick-Fil-A which somehow manages to maintain high standards), or any number of places. Piss-poor service is the norm.

The sad part is that nobody cares. Yeah, we talk about the need for soft skills. But when push comes to shove, the willingness to really deal with the problem just isn’t there. Avoiding surly employees is one reason why I increasingly turn to online outlets for whatever I need here in…

My Glass House