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Next Generation of Workers Needs Soft Skills

With a talent shortage looming, there is a growing need for younger generations to step quickly into more advanced roles.

September 30, 2008
Related Topics: Technology
KEYWORDS metrics / technology
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With a talent shortage looming, there is a growing need for younger generations to step quickly into more advanced roles. The American Management Association (AMA) is taking action. The 85-year-old nonprofit runs a program called “Operation Enterprise” that aims to teach high school and college students the soft skills they need to get ahead in today’s workforce.

“The mission of our program is to equip the students with the life skills, managerial skills, business skills that they won’t get in school,” said Marina Marmut, director of Operation Enterprise. “We give [students] the basics of leadership, strategic planning, interpersonal skills, communication skills, presentation skills, negotiation skills — and all of that we do in a very interactive and hands-on atmosphere.”

The program, which has been around in various forms since 1963, is particularly relevant these days given the large number of baby boomers retiring and the often-unresolved organizational issue of knowledge transfer. After all, as qualified as a young candidate might be to move up in the organization and take on new responsibilities, he or she still may be missing the wisdom and soft skills an older worker has developed through years of experience.

That’s where Operation Enterprise comes in. It is an intensive, weeklong residential summer program housed in various institutions across the country. There is one session per summer for college students and three or four sessions per summer for high school students, and everybody stays in university dormitories. There are five staff members on-hand, as well as speakers and practitioners who run sessions, and each program group consists of about 20 to 25 students.

“We intentionally keep the program size small, so we ensure one-to-one attention with the speakers and staff,” Marmut said.

Despite the fact that it’s only eight days long, the program is so thorough it has been accredited by the American Council on Education, she said.

At the high school and college levels, Operation Enterprise begins with a series of team projects and workshops, then graduates to task force work and panel forums, and culminates in a full-day management simulation.

“Another strength of the program is the speakers run the workshop. Then they stay with the students, have meals with them, and then they can have conversations and discussions in an informal atmosphere,” Marmut said. “This way the students open up, ask questions; they can get some mentoring and coaching during the program. And after the program, the students can keep in touch with them. Very often the speakers become their mentors.”

Melissa Filippi, a current freshman at Pace University in Manhattan, went through the program in July.

“Everything [I learned] I’m using now in college — time management, presentation etiquette and negotiation skills,” she said. “We’re using it every day. The first day of class [included]: ‘What is your name? Where are you from?’ You have to project. I think the program really helped me.”

Vincent Framularo, who attended Operation Enterprise twice — once in high school and again in college — said the biggest takeaway for him was the networking and mentoring opportunities the program provided.

“From the get-go I realized it was great to be able to sit down with these CEOs and consultants [and] pick their brains about how they got to where they are currently,” he said. “[The program] kind of provid[ed] real-life examples of successful individuals and also role-model examples of how I wanted to build my career and skills. That was key as a student.”

Framularo now works as the director of client relations at Power Marketing Partners, a strategic consulting and branding company.

Operation Enterprise costs $1,750 plus a $15 application fee, and many students apply for financial aid or get other companies to sponsor them. Both Filippi and Framularo were awarded the opportunity to attend through Junior Achievement, a nonprofit dedicated to educating students about workforce issues. Thus far, more than 12,000 students have gone through the Operation Enterprise program.

As the economy grows more unstable and belts tighten every day, many organizations undoubtedly will turn to their own ranks to fill open positions. Those hoping to get their young workers ready to step up earlier might benefit from investing in Operation Enterprise or comparable programs, or from implementing similarly structured internships or mentoring programs.

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