SKOWHEGAN — A group of high school teachers is trying to meet the employment needs of local businesses by matching them with the abilities of students and recent graduates.

The idea is for high school teachers to prepare young people entering the workforce better, either part time during college or full time after graduation, by finding out which skills work best in which professions.

Teachers from Skowhegan Area High School have penned a survey, asking local business owners what skills they most value in the workplace — skills that can be taught to students before they show up looking for a job. It’s a way to bridge the gap between what schools teach and what employers need and a way to focus on what are considered the most important skills and characteristics, so educators can focus content and practices on developing those important skills, according to Soren Siren, a Skowhegan selectman and physical education teacher at the high school.

Siren said a group called the Community Connections Committee composed the survey, which includes 10 questions about skills and 13 checklist items for a business or profession.

Teachers from the high school, the vocational center and adult education got together to speak with employers and establish a connection with the school, he said. The group of teachers visited a number of local employers to see what they were looking for in an employee.

Members of the group, including educators from Madison, later attended a class called Linking Business, Industry and Education, a course aimed at finding out what businesses are looking for from the students as they prepare to enter the workplace.

“There’s research out there that there is a disconnect between what we think, as a school, we need to get these kids ready for, and prepare them for, and what business and industry really need from the students as far as their skill sets,” Siren said. “We are in hopes to get as many responses as possible.”

Siren said Main Street Skowhegan, the Chamber of Commerce and the town of Skowhegan have forwarded the survey to business contacts, from local banks and restaurants to auto part stores.

He said businesses are asked in the survey to rank each characteristic in order of importance by placing a No. 1 next to the most important competency, through No. 10, for the least important skill.

Skills would include problem solving, creativity, communication, attitude, work habits and something Siren calls “soft skills,” such as looking people in the eye, shaking their hand and communicating well.

“As teachers, we’re always trying to work on dependability, reliability. We’re always trying to do that, but how are we measuring? That is the key,” he said. “Is there a way we can come up with a measurable tool and help kids develop some of those skills?”

Amber Lambke, co-founder of the Somerset Grist Mill in the former county jail in downtown Skowhegan and co-owner of Maine Grains, said she is familiar with soft skills in her business. She said recent graduates whom she hires have to learn the milling trade on the job, but teaching “people skills” in school is just as important.

“I mostly need employees that are dependable, honest — work hard and efficiently,” Lambke said. “It’s important that they understand what hard work is and don’t shy away from difficult tasks.”

When the survey results are compiled, the group will list the top three skills that need to be developed among students, with help from the staff at the high schools, to incorporate in their day-to-day operations. The next step will be to initiate instruction to develop those skills, said Siren, who also is the physical education and heath coordinator in School Administrative District 54 schools.

“We need to look at that data and find out what the common themes are,” he said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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