Developing Youth Soft Skills

— Written By Tamara Carawan
en Español / em Português

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Blog Banner: Young woman presenting to a panel.

Hard Skills & Soft Skills

At least twice a month I get to write about the exciting things our 4-H’ers have accomplished and the interesting projects they are completing. Sometimes we are celebrating our Shooting Sports Team wins or what culture we have journeyed to with Book Explorers, or what new steps we have learned in programing our robots (Zorbot, and Bella). Sometimes we’re going fishing, or raising livestock, or showing chickens. What do all of these things have in common and why does 4-H foster such disparate programs? For that matter what is 4-H?

4-H is the youth development branch of North Carolina Cooperative Extension. It began with youth Corn Clubs over a hundred years ago and has grown into one of the largest and most respected 4-H Youth Development Programs in the Nation. 4-H as a program has been able to grow because it was founded on the cornerstones of service, leadership, citizenship, and experiential learning. We have maintained our heritage youth programs in agricultural and livestock projects, and grown to include many other programs that will allow us to keep fostering those cornerstones, such as: annual presentation competitions; project record books; environmental conservation; media and computers; leadership programs (N.C. 4-H Ambassadors) and one of the most robust electrical programs in the nation.

I don’t know any 4-H project that I don’t enjoy, but one that I personally grew the most from participating in, is our 4-H Presentation Competition. It is, perhaps even more integral to our young people’s development than it was ten years ago. Every year that passes it seems harder and harder to prepare our teenagers and young adults to enter the workforce. Between new emerging markets and the robotizing of old positions, there is a constant need for the acquisition of new hard skills. However, even lifelong dedication to learning sometimes isn’t enough to make one competitive in the labor market. According to USAID (…) workers also need to be fluent in several soft skills.

What are Soft Skills? For that matter what are Hard Skills? Hard Skills are the cumulation of all formal education and technical training with an emphasis on STEM. Soft Skills, however, are knowledge of and ability to utilize relation skills, and emotional intelligence. All of these soft skills are integral to a person’s ability to collaborate with coworkers and to provide superior understanding to clients. Many employers rate the importance of Soft Skills equal to a prospective employee’s skill and training with Hard Skills. Soft Skills that were deemed especially important were high-order thinking skills (or critical thinking/analysis), self-control, social skills or emotional intelligence, and communication.

While all of these skills are important and valued across fields, communication was most often given extremely high importance. Employers found the ability for their employees to clearly and concisely articulate information to both coworkers and clients, through written and oral means, integral to their institution’s success. Further, effective communication often indicates good social and relation skills, increasing the effectiveness in teamwork. Most employers actively seek employees who cannot only succeed in a team environment but thrive in it.

Can these Soft Skills be acquired through traditional formal education? What else can be done to expand our young people’s Soft Skills? Soft Skills can be learned, through school, however, there can never be enough opportunities for teens and younger kids to practice communication and social relation skills. A great opportunity for youth to engage with one another while building their oral and written communication skills, is to participate in North Carolina 4-H’s Presentation Competition.

To prepare for the N.C. 4-H Southeast District Presentation Competition our youth can participate in our Pamlico County 4-H Spring Presentation workshops. Youth will be able to work on their active listening skills, extemporaneous speaking, and formal speaking. By engaging with other youth in team activities, they will develop their relation abilities, and effective communication. Our big project will be for each participant to research and write a presentation, and practice for our County Activity Day in May, before going on to our district competition in June.

If you are interested in participating or learning more about this program, follow us on social media for real-time updates, or give our office a call 252-745-4121. Don’t forget to check out our upcoming 4-H Programs Including Book Explorers and Robots. Hopping around the globe with Book Explorer’s is fun, and who doesn’t want to play with robots? Our next Book Explorers will be November 13, 2019, 3:30 p.m. at the Pamlico County Library. We will be going to India. Our next Robotics Program is November 20, 2019, 4:30 p.m. at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pamlico County office. If you are interested in our Fall Fun Programs or want to learn more about the 4-H Program in Pamlico County contact Kait Neeland at (252) 745-4121, or, or check us out online. Don’t FORGET to REGISTER, spaces will fill up!