Local video addresses the ‘soft skills’ lacking in employees

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    It’s not a cast of thousands but the faces that appear in a new, locally produced video are familiar ones representing thousands of jobs in Southwestern Illinois.
    And the message the participants offer goes straight to the heart of what ails many of today’s businesses — the need for good employees who are making smart choices about their careers and the skills they need to succeed.
    “Building Blocks for Success: Your Choices, Your Career, Your Future,” made its local debut during a screening last month at the Granite City Cinema.
    The 24-minute video is the result of a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce Southwestern Madison County and the Madison County Employment and Training Board.  They called upon several business men and women to speak up on the importance of soft skills — the intangible traits upon which so many companies depend when they make hires. The assets include people who make good choices and work as a team, or are creative, organized, on time, and sensitive to others.
    “Employers respect integrity the most,” says Jane Saale, CEO of Cope Plastics in Godfrey, one of the business leaders in the film.
    “First impressions are really important,” said James Glik, vice president, Glik Stores, talking about interviews. “And a good, firm handshake and a look in the eyes is really key to getting off to a good start.”
    One by one, the speakers offer their perspective. They were given a topic, but what they said was largely their own words, said Rosemarie Brown, executive director of the chamber.
    “I gave each one of them a good paragraph to speak on and they added to it,” she said.
    Tony Fuhrmann, director of Madison County Employment and Training, called the video an important contribution to the workforce.
    “This project is special. I’ve worked in government many years at the state level, and occasionally you come upon something very beneficial for the long term.  This is one of those projects,” he said.
    The effort took about a year to put together, beginning with initial discussions among four people connected to the chamber and the Employment and Training board. They came up with potential topics, and then approached the business community to refine the topics and go forward with the video.
    “Not one of the people I asked to help us refused,” Brown said.
    Soft skills, also known as essential skills, are more akin to life skills — things that really should be part of person’s makeup before he or she gets to the job.
    Michael Patton, general manager of U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works, includes punctuality on the list  — both for interviews and the daily job.
    “It says you care. There are no better ways to please a boss, satisfy a customer or gain the respect of a fellow worker than showing up on time, every time,” Patton says in the video.
    Jerry Knoyle, the refinery manager of Phillips 66 Wood River Refinery, stressed good communications skills, both verbal and written.
    “They set the tone for how people perceive you. They also improve your chances of building relationships, good or bad, with co-workers.”
    Steve Faust, an executive with icon Mechancial in Granite City, said employers are looking for people with adaptability.
    “We look for young people that are creative and critical thinkers, that can adapt to our processes, … who can work collaboratively, and on teams. We look for really good, positive attitudes. It’s a big thing for us to get the right people in place,” Faust says.
    A willingness to learn is also crucial, according to Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port.  He said he would rather hire someone without experience and willing to learn than someone who is qualified but doesn’t ask questions or seek advice.
    The intended audience of the video is twofold, the education system for students moving forward into occupations and current businesses that want to use it for their employees, Fuhrmann said.
    Already requests for copies have been coming in. The video can be accessed on the Madison County Employment and Training website.
    Bret Kuhlman, of Chesterfield, Mo., who runs a graphics and multimedia business, did the camerawork and editing.
    Sarah Lorio, work-based learning coordinator for Employment and Training, said knowing soft skills is critical to employment.
    “We try to work with employers to understand their workforce needs, then provide potential employees with that information,” she said.
    The video premiered during the annual National Association of Workforce Boards conference in Washington, D.C., in March. More than 1,500 workforce development and business professionals attended the conference.
    Ron Painter, president of NAWB introduced the video.  He said the lack of soft skills is a nationwide issue affecting the workforce in all areas of the country.  
    Anyone interested in obtaining a copy can contact Fuhrmann at [email protected] or visit www.co.madison.il.us/departments/employment_and_training/index.php to watch.

Participants in video

THE PARTICIPANTS ARE:
Dan Buck, managing partner, Big Sports Properties
Ed Cunningham, president and CEO, Gateway Regional Medical Center
Steve Faust, business development/diversity coordinator, icon Mechanical
Kathy Federico, executive manager, Jack Schmitt Chevrolet
Curtis Francois, president and CEO, Gateway Motorsports Park
James Glik, vice president, Glik Stores
Jerry Knoyle, refinery manager, Phillips 66
Richard Mark, president and CEO, Ameren Illinois
Ronald Painter, president and CEO, National Association of Workforce Boards
Michael Patton, general manager, U.S. Steel Corp. Granite City Works
Randall Pembrook, chancellor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Jane Saale, president and CEO, Cope Plastics Inc.
Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director, America’s Central Port

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