Blog post by Jermaine Williams, cooperative employment coordinator at St. Georges Technical High School and Rodel Teacher Council member
As the cooperative employment coordinator at St. Georges Technical High School, my job, in conjunction with our career and technical instructors, is to usher our senior students out into the working world as employed adults.
It’s a tough job, especially considering that we have 254 seniors spread across 15 different career programs, which span from construction to automotive to business to early childhood to food service and nursing. We connect with local employers throughout Delaware to get our seniors placed in co-op jobs—real, in-the-field job experiences in their industry of interest.
The good news? Our students have the chops. St. Georges does an amazing job of arming our students with the technical skills needed for the jobs of today.
But what about the so-called “soft skills?” Often times, those special skills that bosses love but teenagers often lack—like communication, initiative, punctuality, attendance, attitude—can be a challenge.
Employability skills are a huge priority in our school. They can be the difference between gaining and maintaining a job; from simply getting a foot in the door to advancing through a career. And they translate to virtually every facet of professional life.
That’s why each marking period, I send out a rubric to our co-op employers. They are tasked with grading our students on a slate of 10 employability skills, which gets incorporated into their overall career program grade. For some students, this is a breeze. Others need a gentle push. That’s where the employer feedback helps.
I have noticed that a lot of students struggle with the concept of “initiative.” It’s tough convincing a 17-year-old that simply completing a task at the workplace shouldn’t be the end of your contribution. I try to encourage seniors to avoid complacency during their co-op and work 1-on-1 with them to seek out other ways to help and improve. I’m also developing an online module for Schoology that will allow students to improve their skills at home through videos, PowerPoints, readings, and quizzes.
At schools in the New Castle County Vo-Tech District, these employability skills are woven into our career programs. I firmly believe this is key in preparing our students to be career and college ready.
I’m also encouraged that these skills—often found under the umbrella of “social emotional skills”—are gaining more attention and traction throughout the educational ecosystem. Even the North Star, the centerpiece vision found in Student Success 2025, includes attributes like persistence, critical thinking, and problem-solving. These are exactly the types of skills that all students should have in spades by the time they graduate from high school, whether they are in a career and technical program or not.
I know this because our co-op employers tell me directly. They love our students because our students are ready to thrive in the workplace environment and jump in as valued colleagues. More often than not, it’s the soft skills that provide a firm footing in a given career.