Working with UA Little Rock Children International, a team of University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students is conducting interviews with local organizations to identify labor market trends and the soft skills most desired by employers.
Shandrea Murphy (Little Rock, Ark.), Alexis Pinkston (North Little Rock, Ark.), and Rachel Villafane (St. Louis, Mo.) are meeting with key members of the community, including industry leaders, employment agencies, employment training programs, and college and university representatives as part of their research.
“Our first interview was with the Executive Director of the Little Rock Workforce Development Board to discuss the things that some of his employees encounter during their training programs,” Murphy said. “We will also be meeting with Mayor Frank Scott to talk about his goals for economic development, Mike Poore, Little Rock School District Superintendent, to understand the needs of employers in the field of education, and other stakeholders from different targeted industries.”
Children International, an international nonprofit that strives to help children break the cycle of poverty, is especially interested in the soft skills businesses and organizations desire in potential employees. In 2018, the UA Little Rock Children International agency – which has been serving the Little Rock area for 25 years – began emphasizing college and career readiness with their 16-24-year-olds. The feedback that the Clinton School team receives from their interviews will influence future UA Little Rock Children International programs related to employment training and employment opportunities for young adults in Little Rock.
“Some of the skills they are looking at are self-awareness, effective communication, decision making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationships, critical thinking, and coping with stress and emotions,” said UA Little Rock Children International College and Career Program Specialist and team supervisor Susanna Creed. “It’s many of the life skills that people look for in their employees.”
Creed, a 2018 graduate of the Clinton School, said that one finding from the team’s research is that many of the valued soft skills overlap with the skills already emphasized in UA Little Rock Children International’s own empowerment programs, which strive to build leadership by strengthening life skills and increasing social responsibility.
“We took their research and our 10 life skills and found kind of a mutually beneficial definition for each one,” Creed said. “The team will discuss this list with employers to determine how much crossover our empowerment skills have with the soft skills employers are looking for. This work will impact UA Little Rock Children International’s future programming in this area.”
In April, the team will deliver their findings to UA Little Rock Children International. This information will not only benefit the youth the agency serves, but could also influence Children International’s global career readiness programs. In addition to determining which soft skills are prioritized by employers, the team will also offer recommendations on how the skills should be taught to youth.
“We will be looking into best practices and model programs that already work with youth ages 16-24 on developing soft skills to see what has been the most successful,” Murphy said. “We have found a few around the country that have been successful so it’s just a matter of seeing how to make elements of their programs fit into the Little Rock context.”