Acing ‘The Basics’ of Business

Students with soft skills training make smoother, more successful transitions from the classroom to the workplace.

By Mary Lou Jay

Graduates of vocational logistics programs may come to an employer with an impressive academic record. But unless they understand the basics of how to conduct themselves on the job, and of how to interact with their supervisors and their coworkers, they’re unlikely to do well in their new positions.

Just ask Kathy DePiro, an instructor in logistics and materials management at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center in Pennsylvania. When she first started teaching, she had to create a curriculum from old textbooks and articles from trade publications. She supplemented this information with work skills training based on her own career and educational experience.

About a dozen years ago, DePiro learned about the textbook “Fundamentals of Warehousing & Distribution,” produced by the MHI Career & Technical Education (CTE) Program. She began using its first three volumes in her classroom. “Once we found the specific industry curriculum and we had all this great industry, skill-based information, we backed away from teaching job skills,” she said.

Although the curriculum was excellent, the on-the-job results were not what DePiro expected. “We found out that our students were not perfectly prepared, that they were not being successful. We realized that all that technical skill was not that valuable if they couldn’t get through an interview, make it through the first 30 days on the job, or take constructive criticism,” said DePiro, who is a member of MHI’s CTE Program Advisory Board. She saw some heartbreaking examples during this time, as some students who had landed great positions would blow their opportunities when they made unprofessional remarks while at work or quit because they couldn’t get along with co-workers or supervisors.

At the urging of teachers like DePiro and its own members, MHI added a fourth volume to the logistics curriculum “Developing Your Soft Skills. Making a Successful Leap from the Classroom to the Workplace.”

DePiro now begins introducing the soft skills concepts from that text in the first year of her program’s four-year curriculum. That has made her students’ transition to the workforce much smoother. “I have seen a marked difference in the last few years. Not all of the students go into material handling, but that volume has knowledge that crosses all industries,” she added. No matter what industry they’re working in, students find those soft skills invaluable.

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