Teaching Soft Skills for the Global Economy: Start Small

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Why Global?

When Google originally started hiring, they looked for graduates from top American computer science programs – people with hard skills. Over the years, they realized that the most successful Google employees actually had 7 characteristics, all soft skills: “being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many other surveys and studies show similar results – soft skills or 21st century skills or workforce readiness skills or employability skills, whatever you prefer to call them – are what employers are looking for. While teaching these skills is imperative, I would argue that teaching them through a global lens is critical.

Consider the economy that our students are going to be working in: already 1 in 5 jobs is tied to international trade and 95 percent of consumers live outside of U.S. borders. Meanwhile, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution marches on and technology becomes ever-more pervasive, new global digital platforms are completely flattening the competition for buyers on an international scale.

Using your smartphone (and by 2020 it is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s adults will own one), you can order anything from anywhere. This means that commerce is going to revolve around the individual consumer – who may be located in any corner of the globe. For businesses to compete on a global scale, they will need to innovate based on an understanding of consumer needs, which vary greatly depending on culture.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that 96 percent of business executives surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities identified intercultural skills, that is, being “comfortable working with colleagues, customers and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds,” as important, including 63 percent who believe these skills are very important. And how do they want students to obtain these skills? Ninety-one percent of those surveyed agreed that “all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.”

Start Small

This is why it is essential that educators of career and technical education (CTE) begin to integrate global content into what they are already teaching in their classrooms. I want to underscore that I’m not advocating for another “global education” class or a complete overhaul of any curriculum. Rather, I believe that educators can start small, by weaving one global topic into a project this semester and building from there.

For instance, when Tara Berescik, began teaching agriculture at TriValley High in upstate New York, she knew that global would be a core component to her teaching…eventually. First she started with one lesson, asking students to look at the ingredients in a cheeseburger and source them. She then added on to the lesson by asking students to map when the ingredients are in season in different parts of the world. This was followed by discussions on food security, local agriculture, and reducing the carbon footprint. Tara continued building and now takes students abroad every year to truly engage them in global learning.

But you don’t have to start with travel abroad. Look at your standards and see how the skills of global competence align to them. In many cases, the links are more obvious than you may think. Then think in terms of incremental change, like Tara. Time is always an issue, but if you begin with adding a global question to just one lesson, you can see the natural connections to what you are already teaching and begin building from there. If you are an agriculture teacher, discuss the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, and the effect it is having on the food supply. If you are teaching health sciences, talk about the spread of global diseases. If you are teaching manufacturing, include discussions of the global supply chain as part of your projects. If you are teaching transportation and logistics, look at complex transit routes and port mechanisms. From there, dig deeper, or better yet, have students dig deeper. You will find they are more engaged in their learning as they see the real-world applications. There is nothing to lose by exposing your students to the world outside of our borders and everything to gain.

Tools to Help

Most CTE educators, like Tara, are not initially prepared to add a global perspective to their teaching – they received no training prior to setting foot into the classroom. This is why Asia Society, in partnership with ACTE and Advance CTE, through a generous grant from the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF), have created the new, free online professional development course and tools, “Global Competence Through Career and Technical Education.” Online, and interactive, the materials help CTE educators integrate global content and skills into what they are already teaching in their classrooms in order to prepare students for the global world of work.

To learn more about adding a global perspective to CTE, join Heather for her EMPOWER18 session on Saturday, March 24 from 1:30pm – 3:00pm.


Heather Singmaster is the Associate Director at the Center for Global Education, Asia Society. Connect with Heather on Twitter or email .

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