Next Generation of Workers Needs Soft Skills

 -  9/29/08

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

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.

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