Non-Cognitive Skills and Employability

At Breakthrough Silicon Valley, our primary focus is on getting our students to and through college. The real demonstration of our success, however, lies in the stories our alumni share about job opportunities and career plans. We're on a journey that promises to lift low-income students out of poverty and open the door to new possibilities. Our eye can't just be on college then – not when we're talking about economic prosperity that will transform lives. Career success is the ultimate goal.

Recently, we wrote about how Breakthrough builds skills beyond academics alone. We know that outstanding grades and test scores are key to getting our kids into college, but staying in and succeeding in college often require a different set of skills. Persisting to graduation involves the ability to communicate and work well with others, be resilient and learn from mistakes, manage time effectively and more. Experts believe that non-cognitive abilities, or social and emotional skills as they're collectively known, are crucial.

It probably comes as no surprise that such abilities are valued in the workplace as well; in this context, as employability skills. Yet with grades and test scores as the more tangible outcomes of school, the competencies that help students navigate challenges through a complex web of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and problem solving skills receive less attention.

American Institutes for Research reports that "[e]mployers want to see…[non-cognitive] skills in their applicants and are concerned about what they see as a skills gap among potential employees. [A]nd an even more alarming problem is that youth from low-income communities do not have access to the same opportunities to build desired employability skills as their more affluent peers." One study found "that non-cognitive abilities such as persistence, motivation, leadership and social skills are equally or even more important than cognition in determining earnings and [job] success."

Over six years, from middle school through high school graduation, Breakthrough helps students develop strong non-cognitive skills. Our middle school After School Program centers on problem solving, team work, and communication. Students build math skills, but they also ask probing questions, debate alternatives, articulate ideas, and collaborate on solutions. And in high school, workshops that focus on financial literacy, job interviewing, career development, and resume writing build workplace-ready skills. Breakthrough prepares students to succeed in life — in college and, ultimately, an increasingly complex workplace.

Check out the events page on our new website to read about upcoming workshops. There are many ways to help students build the skills they need for career success, and we welcome your enthusiasm and expertise. Volunteers can host a Career Exploration Day field trip at their workplace, participate in the STEM Challenge and Chat, and more. Click here to learn more.