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From the paper: Soft skills gap, computer science

Soft skills gap

There's a saying that hard skills can get you hired, but soft skills (or lack thereof) get you fired.

While public-private partnerships are making significant progress in addressing Chicago's technical skills gap, we can't ignore the other skills gap frequently cited by a growing number of employers: the soft skills gap. Soft skills include critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, initiative, self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and there is growing concern that employees are entering the workforce without these skills.

While technical skills are a critical minimum requirement for performing a job, it is ultimately soft skills that make for a successful employee. It is these skills that can help employees become upwardly mobile in their careers over the long term.

It is also soft skills that are often the hardest to develop.

The significance of soft skills development is unequivocal. Economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman has demonstrated that soft skills are often as important, and in some cases more important, than IQ, and are predictive of success throughout an individual's life. Companies value and seek out these skills in job candidates because soft skills can be just as important an indicator of job performance as technical skills are. And soft skills can help strengthen families and communities and increase civic activity.

Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago cannot be expected to bear the brunt of soft-skills development on their own. If we want to fill the skills gap in Chicago, the whole skills gap, it's an economic imperative that nonprofits, community colleges, corporations and foundations collaborate to support the development of soft skills across all Chicago students.

Many corporations are reticent to invest in costly apprenticeship or training programs, so they should help public schools and colleges develop a soft-skills curriculum and experiences that can be integrated into the existing curriculum. Corporations should also partner with and support innovative nonprofits like One Million Degrees, and our partners, Year Up and Genesys Works, organizations that support the development of soft skills and technical skills. Innovative non-profits can be more nimble, flexible and responsive than larger bureaucratic organizations and thus make attractive partners for corporations.

Paige Ponder, chief executive officer, One Million Degrees, Chicago

Computer science

Let Chicago be the first city to add computer science as a fifth major in middle school and high school.

I don't mean Study Island or Facebook.

Students should take classes in computer programming, data base design, website design, artificial intelligence, computer mathematics, networking and other studies within the field. This will ensure a technologically advanced workforce.

This could initially be financed by the Department of Education, foundations and other sources. Later, as the city prospers, Chicago would pay for the extra teachers. Also issues like a transition certification program would need to be addressed.

It's time to start building a better future.

Gary D. Podolner, Chicago

Tax breaks

I never read about how vital the parochial schools are to our city. Many middle- to upper-middle-income families in my neighborhood ,Old Irving Park, choose the Catholic, Lutheran or Jewish school option and are delighted with this choice. The kids actually learn the value of memorization, computation and grammar.

The parents are currently paying tuition and property taxes. Another property tax increase will hurt the parochial schools because many families will no longer be able to justify paying even higher property taxes, while not being able to use the selective enrollment schools due to the neighborhood's tier.

Would it be possible to give a tax break on tuition to people who live in tiers with higher property values and a voucher to those who live in tiers with lower property values?

A world-class city should have educational options for all of its citizens, including parochial options. A tax break or voucher for tuition would be another way to keep the middle- to upper-middle class in the city.

M. Clark, Chicago

Editor's note: We would like readers to share favorite memories and seasonal thoughts by sending letters to the editor on the theme "The best part of the holiday season is . . ." We will run a selection of these letters during December. Please send submissions to ctc-tribletter@tribune.com by Dec. 6.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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