Monthly Archives: September 2018

“Why are Soft Skills so Hard?”

For years (maybe even decades?) at all levels in the field of workforce development, from practitioner to system leader, from vendor to funder, from direct client facing to policy wonk, we have discussed the need for better soft skills among the job seeking customers we serve. We even toyed with naming these skills something else for a while since the moniker itself isn’t particularly descriptive. For a short time, some in the field called them “essential employability skills,” not exactly a catchy title. So, for better or worse, it seems that we are back to the term “soft skills.” In fact, I have noticed that even the employer community with whom we engage to supply talent are now easily and regularly referring to soft skills as well. Employers who are hiring know what they are and seem perpetually frustrated that the workforce development system can’t consistently supply a talent pipeline possessing these soft skills.

What exactly are these soft skills anyway and why are they so hard to find? Who is responsible for teaching or instilling these skills that seem so real and basic and yet continue to be the Holy Grail for some employers seeking to fill their talent needs?

While everyone’s definition of soft skills varies, a working definition is likely to include:

  • A thirst for knowledge: keen curiosity and a willingness to learn
  • Team mentality: the awareness of the need for a “tribe”
  • Flexibility and commitment: being able to both anticipate and adapt
  • Project management: simply put, being organized and timely
  • Self-awareness: having a clear understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Communication skills: the ability to not only succinctly share one’s thoughts and ideas with others, but to also listen with intent

Interestingly, some employers are simply summing up soft skills in two words: Fast thinking. While that doesn’t exactly capture EVERY soft skill necessary, it does show a 21st century trend toward problem solving, effective communication, leadership and willingness to keep learning new skills.

The workforce development system has a distinct and important role to play here: our local boards and regional organizations and service delivery organizations can add value by tracking employer trends, listening closely to business and industry sector needs and responding with nimbleness and speed to provide new training solutions. With every training developed, it is critical to factor in the soft skill component and—in working with our training providers—to push them to do the same. Soft skills are no longer a “nice to have” for job seekers, they are vital skills needed by everyone whether they are looking for a career in customer service or manufacturing.

By partnering together, workforce boards, service providers and businesses can more consistently develop the talent pipelines that deliver candidates that not only have the technical skills needed by industry, but also possess the soft skills making them the well-rounded candidates needed to propel businesses forward.

Marlena Sessions is a workforce development professional who has dedicated her career to creating self-sufficiency via careers for all people. She is the Vice-President for Public and Private Partnerships for Grant Associates, a national workforce development company that has operated nearly 80 different workforce programs in communities of all sizes.

NRF Foundation joins with workforce development company Grant Associates to provide RISE Up training

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2018 – The NRF Foundation today announced that it has formed a partnership with workforce development company Grant Associates, Inc. to provide the Foundation’s RISE Up training and credentials to approximately 150 job seekers in New York City and the Washington metropolitan area.

“Partnerships with organizations like Grant Associates that train and support job seekers in their local communities are key to RISE Up’s success,” NRF Foundation President Ellen Davis said. “Our credentials teach the skills needed to land a job in retail, and we value the support services Grant Associates offers would-be workers as they launch promising careers in our thriving industry.”

“We’re excited to work with the NRF Foundation to bring this training opportunity to job seekers,” Grant Associates President Doug Cotter said. “The retail industry provides critical entry-level and long-term career opportunities — including career pathways to technology and management — in communities large and small, and this training is a great way to gain the skills employers seek.”

Grant Associates is using online training for the Foundation’s Retail Industry Fundamentals credential to complement a full suite of wrap-around services including career exploration, technical training, referral to partner agencies, career placement and advancement support.

Training for job seekers served by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program began earlier this month at WorkSource Montgomery Young Adult Opportunity Program in Montgomery County, Md. and New York City Human Resources Administration facilities in Harlem and Brooklyn. Individuals who complete the training will be referred to local employer partners.

The Retail Industry Fundamentals credential prepares participants for jobs in entry-level retail positions in distribution centers, call centers and stores. The training is designed to provide a wide array of knowledge in areas such as retail tools and technologies, customer service, retail math, inventory and interview skills.

The NRF Foundation launched RISE Up in January 2017 and is working with retail, nonprofit and public education partners nationwide to help people regardless of education, background, economic means or age acquire the skills they need to secure jobs in retail and advance into promising careers. Since its launch, more than 45,000 participants have completed RISE Up training and credentials.

The Foundation designed the training in collaboration with dozens of retailers, nonprofits and foundations, ensuring that the skills and training it provides meet industry needs, and that the materials created are user-friendly for nonprofits and education groups. The training can be delivered in the classroom or online to people of all backgrounds, ages and education levels. Click here to learn more about RISE Up.

About NRF Foundation
The NRF Foundation shapes retail’s future by building awareness of the industry through statistics and stories; developing talent through education, experiences and scholarships; and fostering career growth among people who work in retail. The NRF Foundation is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm of the National Retail Federation and is funded in part by generous donations from retail industry supporters.

Grant Associates, Inc.
Grant Associates is a national, award-winning workforce development company that has become a trailblazer and a force for innovation in delivering workforce services nationally. A certified Woman-Owned Business, we have operated nearly 80 different programs in communities of all sizes that reflect our strength across the spectrum of workforce development: operating full-service One-Stops, sector-based initiatives, business centers, and programs that serve those on public assistance, as well as other targeted populations such as youth, justice-involved, veterans and the disabled. For more information visit: