Skills to Pay the Bills: Preparing Young People for the World of Work
Skills to Pay the Bills: Preparing Young People for the World of Work

Categories: Employment

Skills to Pay the Bills Cover

By Guest Blogger Maria Town, a Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy

Who can forget their first job? Mine came as a teenager when I worked as a receptionist for a personal injury attorney. You know, one of those lawyers who comes on television and says, “If you’ve been in an accident, call me!” Well, all sorts of people called our office seeking help, and I answered phones, made copies, scheduled appointments and filed papers.

Aside from being in an office, this job had little to do with the profession I eventually pursued. However, it was probably the most valuable job I’ve ever had—because it helped me understand the value of a paycheck and the importance of work and personal responsibility. But there’s something else I learned in that first job that helped fuel my professional success today—and that’s the importance of “soft skills.” That experience was about more than simply answering phones and taking messages; it was about supporting clients, relating to coworkers, being punctual and behaving professionally. In other words, it helped me recognize the importance of interpersonal and other soft skills that were so vital to my boss and our business.

There’s no question that early job experiences are essential to developing soft skills. Conversely, soft skills are essential to getting early work experiences, because they make us more marketable. Yet, many young people—particularly those with disabilities—do not receive training or education about soft skills before dipping their feet into the world of work.

Recognizing this, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has developed two free career development resources designed to sharpen the communication and other soft skills of young workers, both with and without disabilities. Called “Skills to Pay the Bills:  Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” this series includes a curriculum and a set of videos with an accompanying discussion guide, both of which are available for download or mail order.

These resources are targeted at youth, ages 14 to 21, in both in-school and out-of-school environments. The curriculum was designed to be inclusive and is comprised of modular, hands-on, engaging activities that focus on six key skills: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking and professionalism. The curriculum can be adapted to suit the needs of any group. The video series also addresses these six themes and can be used separately or as a complement to the curriculum. In fact, mail-order DVDs of the videos include a guide with “conversation starters” to help spark discussions among youth about the importance of soft skills to career and personal success.

These are outstanding, practical tools, and I encourage anyone who works with young job seekers to check them out. Simply access the “Skills to Pay the Bills” curriculum and video series on ODEP’s website or order them in hard copy, free of charge.

I’ve come a long way from that first job working the phones. Today, I’m a policy advisor in ODEP and part of the team behind the soft skills products. And as I continue my journey along my own professional trajectory, I know I’ll never stop honing those “Skills to Pay the Bills.”

Maria Town is a Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, where she focuses on youth issues.

10 Responses to Skills to Pay the Bills: Preparing Young People for the World of Work

  1. erlinda says:

    Sebior/ w/ permanent disability. searching for job to pay bnills graduated last Spring my AA certificate and hard to get even part time Been volunteer for years Hope someone can help.


  2. Cathy P says:

    What criteria is used to determine whether a job will accept Schedule A? I have a degree in Health Information Management and I am a RHIA. I applied for a job at the VA hospital in Jackson, MS using schedule A because the job posting said it would be accepted. The job was withdrawn, only to be reposted several weeks later not accepting Schedule A. I was told there had been a conference call with all Health Information Directors in the VA healthcare system and determined that none jobs in my profession would accept Schedule A, even though working from home doing coding, transcribing, etc, which are part of my profession, has become an industry standard and easily performed by handicapped individuals. The same facility was accepting Schedule A for doctors and nurses, so I don’t understand how the criteria is applied.

  3. Diane D. says:

    @Patricia D. – Right there with ya, my son is in the same boat. No life skills, no work skills, expected to live with me for many, many years if not “forever”, etc. :(

    @ODEP – Thank you for putting this incredibly important info together! My son and I both have Autism and I’m going to share this with our support group. I’m also going to post about it (and include a link) at my website.

    Happy Holidays!

  4. NATALIE D. says:

    This is so on time for my daughter who is in high school and is in a apprenticeship program right now. She is sp. ed.,diabled. Thank you for this posting.

  5. Candy C. says:

    Are videos closed captioned?

  6. Patricia A. says:

    Need HELP with the Deposits which is 1458 before she put us out of her place. thanks a much and merry christmas

  7. Arthur D. says:

    I am elated by the reading of this article. You certainly provide a started thought of acceepting and working the first job. I mean, one has to start from somewhere to be able to pay the bills. Thank you.

  8. Patricia D. says:

    This article is long overdue my son really could have used this when he was in special education in high school, unfortunately he never learned basic everyday skill necessary to become self sufficient in today’s world.

    Thank you for this information.

  9. Nohemi says:

    Great article!!

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