AUGUSTA — Many of the things that serve people well in work will serve them well in life.

That was the message from local business and community leaders during a panel discussion Friday at Cony High School. They addressed educators in the school district, discussing the success and challenges of hiring Cony graduates.

Stacey Morrison, chief executive officer and owner of Ganneston Construction Corp., speaks during a panel discussion Friday at Cony High School in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

While it is fairly easy to assess whether someone meets basic job requirements, leaders said, it’s harder to measure whether someone has the ability to work on a team, form personal connections with clients, solve problems independently, be on time and work hard, be creative, communicate well and maintain a high degree of integrity. That is what really makes an employee stand out, they said.

“I think the soft skills go across any spectrum of life and employment,” said Ed Kinslow, president and chief executive officer of employee-owned Kennebec Technologies, a precision manufacturer for the aerospace industry in Augusta. “The soft skills are very tough to measure: integrity, character, communications, problem solving, teamwork, initiative, concentration and focus, deductive reasoning skills … They’re important because we look to these people to be independent contributors to the overall good of the company.”

He said the aerospace industry is booming, and the business has grown 30 percent in two years and expects to grow another 15 percent this year. He said they’ve hired 17 people last year and expect to hire 12 this year.

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said when she comes across someone, such as an intern, who demonstrates they have those types of hard-to-measure skills, she keeps track of them and looks to hire them because she knows they’d be a good fit in the office.

“The ability to come up with your own solutions — as much as you can, encourage your students to do that,” Maloney said. “Not to spit back memorized vocabulary. That doesn’t help in the workplace.

“I really care if they can think. That’s what I’m looking for,” she added. “And people with a passion, people excited about our bigger mission.”

Jim Coffin, co-owner of Coffin Engineering, said what he looks for in an employee includes integrity, enthusiasm and a good work ethic, as well as math, public speaking and computer-aided drafting skills.

Jennifer Day, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Rizzo Mattson and a current Augusta city councilor, said people need to be self-motivated and self-directed, have compassion, strong listening skills and an ability to network and form connections with clients to be successful in the real estate field.

She encouraged teachers to give students “the opportunity to create compassionate scenarios and connect with people and listen without forming opinions first. Being able to make assessments, personal accountability and time management is huge.

“Being able to know someone’s business, without sharing someone’s business, is very important,” Day said.

Heather Pouliot, owner of Core Marketing and Design and president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said anything teachers can do to foster the entrepreneurial spirit is very important. She said skills needed to run your own business include math and accounting, creative thinking, leadership ability and problem solving. She encouraged mentorship programs in schools.

Jennifer Day, of Coldwell Banker Rizzo Mattson, speaks during a panel discussion Friday at Cony High School in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“Not everyone is a natural born leader, but you can be taught leadership skills in high school and college,” Pouliot said. “Mentorship is huge; it really gives them the confidence to do a lot of different things. And teach kids that failure is okay, and that you can actually thrive after you fail.”

Stacey Morrison, chief executive officer of Ganneston Construction, a commercial builder in Augusta, said a surprising number of young workers don’t feel they need to show up for work every day of the week. She said she looks for people who are ready to work.

“The skills we’re looking for include working with others, being able to communicate, listen and negotiate, organization skills, memory skills, design and planning and management and leadership,” she said.

Chuck Hays, MaineGeneral Health president and chief executive officer, said most health care-related jobs require a strong core competency in math, reading and writing. But, he said, employees in the field also need less-measurable skills such as being able to adapt to change, to make people comfortable, to self-motivate and organize, and — if they’re going to be interacting with patients — empathy for others.

“Some of the issues within health care are driven by social needs,” Hays said. “You can fix that before they leave by connecting them with services in the community. They may not have oil or food, and that could be making them sick. If you don’t have that awareness, you really can’t help.”

Cony Principal Kim Silsby said Friday’s session was suggested by a group of department heads who were talking with her about ways they could help prepare students for work and life, as well as examine whether Cony’s curriculum meets the needs of students. She said the event has connections to a 2016 “Future Search” effort in which school officials sought input from community members about what they wanted their schools to do, and be.

Superintendent James Anastasio noted Friday’s panelists likely wouldn’t be where they are in life if they did not have good teachers with whom they formed relationships. He encouraged teachers to, in turn, encourage their students to consider a career in education.

“For educators I’ve worked with over my career, that’s what they’re really good at — caring, having empathy, communicating and meeting the needs of others,” Anastasio told teachers. “All those things are important because you’re a role model. You are the people who can do that.”

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]
Twitter: @kedwardskj


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