Group Career Counseling: An Effective Intervention for Increasing Soft Skills
By Carra Beam
Measuring “career readiness” has become standard practice in schools across the country (USDOE, 2018). The main concepts of “career readiness” include both soft skills and hard skills. Hard skills are job specific knowledge people need to perform their jobs, which job applicants typically possess. Many define soft skills as the intangible traits that an employee has. Robles’ (2012) identified the top 10 soft skills business executives desire:
- Social skills
- Positive Attitude
- Work Ethic
Social Capital and the Soft Skills Connection
Despite being noted as a crucial component to career readiness, students are arriving in the workforce missing soft skills (Cook, 2015; Tulgan, 2015). Companies and hiring managers often rank employees' well-developed soft skills as the most desired traits in their workforce (Cook, 2015). Soft skills like the ones noted are essential to any healthy adult relationship whether professional, social or romantic (Cook, 2015; Khalifian, Murphy, Barry, & Herman, 2016). Soft skills are better acquired with early practice, beginning at the pre-college level. Colleges are also recognizing the deficit of soft skills in their students (Andreas, 2018).
One of the reasons for this deficit may include the loss of social capital in students (Andreas, 2018). Loury (1992) sees social capital as positive social relationships that help individuals grow their social skills and build their network. Another potential reason could be the decline in opportunity for temporary employment during high school (Peck & Preston, 2017). Typical temporary jobs, part-time jobs or internships provide opportunities for students to develop soft skills in real work environments before graduation. Unfortunately, high school students' employment rate has been on a steep and steady decline, from 58 percent in 1979 to 34 percent in 2011 (Morisi, 2017).
High schools are often unable to provide opportunities for students to develop their soft skills. With schools having a hyper-focus on standardized test preparation, school systems have greatly restricted teachers’ ability to slow down and incorporate soft skills into their curriculum.
Closing the ‘Soft Skills Gap’
The concepts that soft skills are some of the most desired traits in the workforce and that our high school graduates lack developed soft skills are well-established (Cook, 2015; Jones et al., 2016; Tulgan, 2015). What we do not know is how to close the existing ‘soft skills gap’ among the high school student population. Group Career Counseling (GCC) offers a potential pathway to close this gap.
A meta-analysis of current research indicates that structured groups have greater success for career interventions when compared with other intervention modalities (Whiston, Brecheisen & Stephens 2003). Pyle and Hayden’s (2015) Group Career Counseling (GCC) is a structured group approach to consider for teaching soft skills. Soft skills consist of social abilities and require interaction with people. As a result, group modality, such as that promoted by GCC, is a context where social skills are potentially best acquired. Pyle and Hayden (2015) explain this development: “In GCC, the opportunity exists to help members role-play situations in which they may need skills in interacting with a potential employer or in conducting an information interview” (p. 5). They go on to say, “GCC presents the opportunity for intense social interactions within a positive and accepting environment. Such interaction promotes mutual learning and allows group members to benefit from a positive social situation” (p. 5). In GCC, career counselors or specialists also provide the expert-level support necessary for fostering students’ development of soft skills.
There are many reasons why career specialists should not hesitate to use GCC for teaching soft skills. Counselors and teachers have limited time, and as such, are sparse resources. School counselors and career specialists have so many students on their caseloads that giving students individualized attention for soft skills development is not feasible. GCC can fill this gap. GCC is different from the traditional group or classroom guidance approach in that the design is for working with students in smaller groups. Typically four to eight students are considered ideal with a focus on career development goals (Pyle & Hayden, 2015). This size allows for skill development, while being efficient with time.
Most soft skills inherently involve interactions with people, like negotiating, teamwork, networking, interpersonal communication, and so forth. While students can also benefit from individual sessions in conjunction with GCC, it is nearly impossible to incorporate peer interactions within a one-on-one counseling session. Utilizing a modality that allows for peer interactions is essential if the program goal is to develop interpersonal soft skills. GCC holds the promise of being one of the most efficient, cost-effective method to close the students’ soft skills deficits gap.
Pyle and Hayden (2015) note that GCC sessions help to normalize situations students may experience through the peer interactions that occur within GCC (2015). GCC allows students to focus on both intrinsic and extrinsic components of skills development (Pyle & Hayden, 2015). Individuals can "shine" more in small groups, and they allow facilitators to go in-depth on particular topics (Jordan & Marinaccio, 2017). Small groups, like GCC, can enable students to get the social interaction of a group but also the benefit of individualized attention and opportunities to communicate with and receive feedback from peers.
Success in the Workplace
In summary, career specialists will find the GCC an effective modality to close the soft skills gap so their students can be successful in the workforce. School resources are limited, and there is little time to focus on soft skills in the classroom. GCC is a structured career development intervention strategy that is cost effective and time efficient. GCC is potentially the most effective way to increase career readiness.
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Carra Beam is employed by Strayer University in Library and Career Services, and she is completing her graduate internship at Charleston County School the Arts. Carra is also pursuing the Global Career Development Facilitator certification and a Licensed Professional Counselor certification. She will complete her M.Ed. in School Counseling with Liberty University in 2019. Working in higher education administration, Carra discovered her passion for helping students reach their career goals. In 2014 she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Charleston Southern University with a B.A. in Communications. She also competed in NCAA Division 1 women's basketball at CSU. Carra is an active member of the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES) Graduate Student Committee. Ms. Bean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.