How Indianapolis high schools are using ‘badges’ to help students demonstrate skills – and land jobs – The 74

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Indiana High School principal Stacey Brewer faces a challenge schools across the country share as they struggle to connect their students with jobs: teaching the “soft skills” of the workplace.

Brewer, who directs Yorktown High School an hour northeast of Indianapolis, struggles with the problems many young people have with basic job rules: being on time, taking the initiative, and speaking to customers. And without a standard school class teaching these skills, there is no way to prove to employers that students have learned them.

“If you want to be workforce-ready in a variety of possible industries, what are the things you need to be a successful employee?” said Brewer, whose 800-student school is involved with a growing number of schools and community organizations in the area Indianapolis, which will use a new set of career skills “badges” that will standardize what young people need to know. “Here’s a way we can solidify some additional training that will be marketable.”

Brewer has made the badges the centerpiece of a pilot graduating course for students who want to work straight out of high school, one of several new, innovative graduating paths beginning in the state. Students complete all six badges as part of this track.

Like a digital version of Boy Scout merit badges, the six Job Ready Indy badges—Mindsets, Self-Management, Learning Strategies, Social Skills, Workplace Skills, and Career Launch—verify what students have learned and serve as certificates of soft skills in the local labor market .

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Within these categories, students are taught professionalism, time management, and attention to detail. Since launching in 2018, more than 3,400 young people, mostly high school juniors and seniors in the Indianapolis area, have earned at least one badge.

“When a young person fills out the badges… when they apply for a job… it’s a way for them (the company) to have confidence,” said Austin Jenness, a spokesman for EmployIndy, which helped develop the badges. “What are your communication skills? What are their interpersonal communication skills? Are you ready for this, even entry-level position?”

Indianapolis isn’t alone in trying to create so-called “soft skills” qualifications that, like technical and industry qualifications, can gain traction over the years. Community colleges in California have used a soft skills and badge curriculum for a decade. There is also a nationwide move away from using high school or college diplomas as the primary credential in hiring, toward “skills-based hiring” — the use of smaller certificates that certify specific skills.

But soft skills credentials are rare for high school students. And as MDRC, a national nonprofit that researches economic policy, noted last fall, testimonies like these are new or unknown.

“If these credentials are widely distributed, their possession could give applicants a distinct advantage,” reads an MDRC comment.

One of the biggest challenges is making sure they come from reliable organizations that have status, something Indianapolis has in hand.

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Victory College Prep, a K-12 school in Indianapolis with about 900 students, requires it for all students before they begin mandatory internships in 11th grade.

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“People are familiar enough that when we talk about the students completing the badges … it gives potential partners a certain level of confidence around 17- and 18-year-olds, which is quite a gamble in terms of willingness and temperament.” could be,” said Andrew Hayenga, the school development officer.

EmployIndy created the badges and a curriculum to teach them in 2018 by combining the state’s 36 “Employability Competency Benchmarks,” skills and talents that apply to all jobs and industries. Lessons were then developed to teach them more than 30 hours of face-to-face classes that schools and community organizations could take off the shelf and teach.

Along with schools, EmployIndy reported that some summer programs run by community groups are using the training as part of their sessions, with classes expanding now that they are online and the pandemic has subsided.

Though the use of Job Ready Indy badges has slowed during the pandemic, it’s now surpassing old levels with online courses. (EmployIndy)

But aside from the increase in the number of people earning badges, EmployIndy has no real data to show success. When asked about companies using the badges in their hiring process, EmployIndy couldn’t. And it’s not yet collecting employment data for graduates, but is in the process of launching a series of focus groups to update the lessons.

“Our world has changed rapidly in recent years, so the way we work has changed as well,” Downey said. “We anticipate content updates almost yearly, not full deep-dive changes, just to make sure we stay current.”

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RelatedIndy Schools Eye Classroom Flex Time, Master Teacher, Revised School Calendar

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