Examines methods for authentically simulating workplace conditions in classroom-based training in soft skills.

“There are three common methods for creating opportunities for experiential learning of soft skills. One is interactive teaching, through which instructors facilitate exercises that provide opportunities for experience, practice, reinforcement, and reflection. A system of spiraling teachable moments that progresses to increasingly more difficult soft-skill tasks reinforces the learning while building the repertoire of skills. This approach requires skilled instructors and a well-designed curriculum, but has the disadvantage that the exercises, no matter how well designed, lack the authenticity of the real workplace.

The second method for teaching soft skills experientially is to use a coach in a workplace setting. On-the-job training work experience, internships, and work-study programs are all examples of teaching both hard (technical) and soft skills in the workplace in a manner that achieves optimal authenticity. The disadvantage of this method is the difficulty of finding employers who will provide both opportunities and a qualified coach to assure that learning takes precedence over workplace productivity.

The third method is to alter aspects of the classroom setting where general education or hard skills are being taught to workforce entrants so that the classroom simulates the workplace. This approach provides an authentic context for teaching and practicing soft skills that entails minimal costs and effort, affords the teacher control over the teaching agenda, and creates a classroom environment that benefits from the improved soft skills of its students…This approach for teaching soft skills can be universally applied to have maximum impact on soft-skill deficits among our youth without new legislation, additional money, or new players. It just requires knowing how” (p.1-2). (Abstractor: Author)

Major Findings & Recommendations

- “Authenticity is both the greatest challenge and the most critical aspect of simulating a workplace environment in a classroom. The simulation must be able to mimic a business-like purposefulness, confront students with a boss who enforces workplace rules, and provide incentives that substitute for paychecks” (p.2). - “The best way to achieve workplace authenticity is to model the classroom simulation after a real business and replicate its workplace rules and cultural nuances. The soft skills valued the most by employers are those that match the employers’ perception of a good work ethic” (p.2). - “No workplace simulation is complete without the role of boss or supervisor. Authenticity in playing these roles sets the stage for students to experiment with appropriate responses to workplace authority with some degree of safety” (p.3). - “Workplace simulations require that teachers play the role of boss or supervisor. In business settings, there is usually a distinction between upper management bosses and front-line supervisors” (p.3) - “One of the challenges in creating authentic workplace simulations in classroom settings is making the shift from an informal atmosphere typical of many classrooms of teenagers to the business-like purposefulness of a typical workplace. One way to make that shift and, at the same time, improve the self-management skills of students is to introduce students to planning tools such as day-planners” (p.4). - “Shaping behavior toward specific standards requires a system of tangible incentives that can be applied with immediacy and consistency. Although praise from the teacher/supervisor is an important incentive, praise cannot be counted. For that reason, tangible incentives are needed” (p.4) - “One approach is to use tokens of various sizes, shapes or colors that correspond to the different soft skills…Using a system of tokens as symbols of the different soft skills, the teacher/supervisor can bestow the tokens to reward appropriate behavior as he/she observes it” (p.5). - “At the end of each week, the students convert the tokens awarded that week into a ‘paycheck’ expressed as dollars. A chart that denotes the value for each token (some soft skills are harder to learn than others) allows students to calculate how much they are ‘earning.’ The weekly exchange lets the teacher know which soft skills are being mastered” (p.5). (Abstractor: Author)