I recently was asked to describe myself in a few words as an introduction for a speech.
When I think about who I am, no matter how much I have accomplished or what hobbies and interests I have, the first descriptor always is "mother."
It absolutely is the most important work I do, hands down. And as a mother of five, with a few in the young-adult category, our discussions frequently revolve around employment and planning for the "real world."
Recently, our conversations have included the idea that when applying for a job or networking with others in your field, the technical skills you must possess to get the job done are a given.
The "soft skills" are what set you apart.
When young people (and people of any age, for that matter) are interviewing, something about them must make them stand out as the person an employer most would want to work with, and although the technical skills are the foundation of the decision, the ultimate hiring decision is based on who the interviewee is.
In a Forbes article titled "12 Qualities Employers Look For When They're Hiring," Liz Ryan shares that job postings and job descriptions focus on the technical knowledge and skills an individual must have in order to apply for a job, but the interview is about understanding who the person is and what his or her personality would bring to the team.
Ryan cites the 12 qualities, including that an interviewee understands his or her path and how he or she arrived at an interview or opportunity, knows what he or she wants in a career, recognizes his or her strengths, likes to solve problems, works well on a team and demonstrates responsibility.
At Tolles Career & Technical Center, every employer I speak with echoes those requests.
We must develop technical skills, as well as the human being learning in our classrooms. School is not about being college- and career-ready -- it is about being human-ready, and a part of that is the ability to have a career.
An advantage of career-technical education is that although we are charged with teaching students technical skills among 16 career pathways, we also are charged with engaging them in opportunities to build extensive "employability skills" -- in other words, all of the qualities listed in the Forbes article.
We do this through a variety of avenues, business-advisory councils for every program, industry experts in the classroom, job-shadowing experiences, internships, career exploration and leadership training, among others.
One key method at Tolles is the Senior Interview Contest.
Every senior at Tolles writes a resume and cover letter, gathers references and interviews for a job in front of experts specific to his or her field of study. Every single one.
My first interview was in front of the employer I was hoping would hire me. I never had the opportunity to practice and be coached.
One winner from each of our career-technical programs is selected after the first round to compete against the other 20 program winners in a contest again judged by industry experts.
Finally, eight students advance to the last round, in which they compete with four business and industry leaders and me for the top spot.
This year's finalists were:
* Ali Al-Mashhadani, a student from Dublin Coffman High School studying web design and development
* Nathanial Alexander, a student from Hilliard Darby High School studying computer-network support
* Rhyan Goodman, a Madison-Plains High School student studying marketing and logistics
* Charity Lane, a London High School student in the pharmacy-technician program
* Nicki Lawhead, a Hilliard Davidson High School student studying outdoor careers
* Taylor Mahaffey, a Darby student in the pre-veterinary-technician program
* Morgan Murchland, a Davidson student studying firefighting and EMS
* Zoya Terrell, a Dublin Jerome High School student studying culinary arts
Judging this interview contest is one of the most rewarding events I participate in during the year at Tolles.
These students are well-spoken and confident. They often are offered a job or a networking opportunity by the judges in the room because of their ability to communicate their own paths, their goals for their future and their personal work ethic.
To graduate from a career-technical center means technical skills are a given; the foundation for the next step and the employability skills are a must -- the launch pad for a student's future.
Emmy Beeson is superintendent of Tolles Career & Technical Center, which includes students from the Dublin and Hilliard school districts. Contact her at ebeeson@ tollestech.com.