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Free Resource for Teaching Employment “Soft Skills”

by Mary Mazzoni on April 8, 2013

What skills are employers looking for? How can we teach these skills to prepare youth for success in the workplace?

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) interviewed employers across industries to learn the “soft skills” they value most.

“Hard skills” are job-specific. “Soft skills” are essential for success in every field of employment.

With the goal of empowering schools, youth programs, and families to teach high-priority soft skills – ODEP has created “Skills to Pay the Bills”.

This free curriculum includes videos and lesson plans designed to engage middle and high school youth as they prepare for the world of work.

Nothing replaces real life experience

The “Skills to Pay the Bills” curriculum is a lot like the “theory” portion of driver’s education. It can be used to teach important foundational information – but it can’t replace guided practice.

Teens need many hours of supervised behind-the-wheel practice before driving independently.  So, too, our kids need a variety of work-based learning experiences to build and refine their employability “soft skills”.

Research demonstrates the effectiveness of work-based learning in preparing youth with disabilities for competitive employment.

Work-based learning can take many forms. Job shadowing, volunteering (service learning), work sampling, internships, community based work assessment, unpaid and paid work experiences.

Find resources for developing high quality work-based learning experiences here. Ideally, parents, teachers, and other adults work together with youth to create opportunities tailored to the young person’s interests and needs. With support and encouragement, teens can clarify their career goals and refine their “soft-skills” through practice in various work environments.

“Skills to Pay the Bills” curriculum components

The entire curriculum document can be downloaded for free here. All of the companion videos can be found in one place here.

Or, you can download individual sections, along with accompanying videos, as needed, below.

Introduction Materials

These materials orient adults to the curriculum and identify ways to accommodate the needs of individual students. It is important to pre-teach vocabulary, background information, and related skills, in addition to accommodating activities to meet individual needs.

Soft Skill Area # 1 – Communication

This section includes role plays and other activities to practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills needed in the workplace.

Soft Skill Area# 2 –  Enthusiasm and Attitude

Subjective characteristics such as positive attitude and enthusiasm are valued highly by employers and can make the key difference during an interview. In this section, role plays and other activities are used to teach students behaviors that are perceived positively by employers.

Soft Skill Area #3 – Teamwork

Corporate training programs often emphasize “team” language and behaviors. Activities in this section teach teamwork language and concepts, along with “team behaviors” valued by employers.

Soft Skill Area #4 – Networking

The activities in this section focus on networking skills that are essential for career development.

Soft Skill Area #5 – Problem Solving & Critical Thinking

Activities in this section focus on problem solving in the workplace. A problem solving graphic organizer will help most students complete activities in this section. You can find such a tool and learn how to use it here.

Soft Skill Area # 6 – Professionalism

“Professionalism”, from an employer’s perspective, includes the blending and integration of a variety of skills. Activities in this section teach students employer expectations for “professional” behavior.

Supplementary Materials

ODEP’s “Skills to Pay the Bills” includes these supplementary links:

Work habits start early

The “Skills to Pay the Bills” curriculum teaches youth to understand and better meet employer expectations.

But the fact is, our kids begin to learn work habits at a very young age.

We can begin nurturing positive work habits in childhood, by teaching our kids to:

Your turn

Will you use the “Skills to Pay the Bills” curriculum yourself, or share it with teachers or youth group leaders? In what ways do you help your child to develop positive “soft skills” for employment?

Hope to hear from you in the comments!

If you found this post helpful – please share it. Thanks!

Let’s support each other – and our kids  - as they build work habits and soft skills for employment success!

Interested in more posts about career development? You can find them here.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gloria Sherman September 11, 2013 at 4:41 am

I am working with special-needs students at our local community college on mastering soft skills. I am in need of materials to use. Your site looks super. Please let me know about available materials and activities that I can attain and use with my students.
Thanks so much!
Gloria Sherman


Mary Mazzoni September 11, 2013 at 5:36 am

Hi Gloria! The resources in the “Employment” section of our “Free Transition Tools” may be of help to you. You can reach them with this link – or by clicking on the “Free Transition Tools” link on the navigation bar at the top of the page – and then clicking on Employment. Then simply click on the name of a post to learn about that tool. Best wishes to you and your students! Please let me know if I can support your work along the way.


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