Fifth-grade students at Taylorsville Elementary (Spencer County) are being taught about repsonsibility by a Spencer County High School student. The district's new Work Ethic Certification program is based on Junior Achievement’s curriculum with grades 4-12 each learning different skill. Photo submitted

Fifth-grade students at Taylorsville Elementary (Spencer County) are being taught about responsibility by a Spencer County High School student. The district’s new Work Ethic Certification program is based on Junior Achievement’s curriculum with grades 4-12 each learning different skill.
Photo submitted

By Brenna R. Kelly

Showing up on time, being organized, working with a team, solving problems – these are just some of the basic skills employers want their workers to possess. They are also some of the skills schools and districts want for their students.

In January, both Spencer and Bullitt counties launched a program to ensure that their students are ready for the workforce once they leave high school.

“We wanted to create something that was specifically going to target the kids who are going to go straight into the workforce,” said Brandy Scott, college and career coach at Spencer County High School. “But as it turned out, this program is designed to teach everybody the essential skills that they need to be successful.”

The Work Ethic Certification program starts in 4th grade with students progressing to certification by high school graduation.

Scott worked with Lee Barger, Bullitt County’s college and career program director, to develop the program for both districts. They consulted the chambers of commerce in both counties to find out what employers say are the most sought-after soft skills.

The program is based on Junior Achievement’s curriculum, which had a lesson for each of the skills Bullitt and Spencer wanted to teach, Scott said. Each grade tackles a different skill, for example, 4th grade is teamwork, 8th grade is organization and 12th grade is professionalism. At the elementary level, the class is taught once a week as a special area, at the high school level the lessons are taught during a 25-minute daily class.

To become work ethic certified, high school seniors must get Cs and above in their high school classes, have no behavior incidents, perform community service hours, submit to voluntary drug screening and have 97 percent attendance, Scott said.

“School is your job. If you don’t show up to school, then you’re not to going to be present in the workforce,” Scott said. “You’ve got to be present in the workforce to be able to get the job done.”

Jefferson, Hardin and Garrard counties have all implemented versions of an essential skills curriculum. Under a bill passed by the General Assembly and currently awaiting Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature, all Kentucky schools would have to implement an essential workplace ethics program beginning in the 2019-20 school year.

The bipartisan bill was filed by Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, and co-sponsored by 13 other representatives. It requires students to receive instruction in seven skills:

  • Adaptability: including problem solving, critical thinking and embracing new ideas;
  • Diligence: seeing a task through to completion;
  • Initiative: taking appropriate action when needed without instruction;
  • Knowledge: understanding work-related information, applying that understanding to a job and effectively explaining concepts to colleagues in writing, mathematics, science and technology;
  • Reliability: being on time, wearing appropriate attire, motivation and ethical behavior;
  • Remaining drug free; and
  • Working well with others: including communication skills, respect for different points of view and diversity of coworkers, and providing leadership and support for colleagues.

The local workforce investment boards will recommend best practices to schools and every two years school boards will work with workforce and industry organizations to establish indicators for each of the skills, the bill states.

Schools will have to give students a seal on their diploma, a certificate or some other symbol that they have attained the workplace ethics indicators. Schools also will have to submit a report to the commissioner of education and the local Kentucky Workforce Investment Board about their program.

While testifying in front of the House Education Committee in support of the bilk, Garrard County High School Principal Diana Hart said her school’s program emphasizes punctuality, communication, community service and work habits, among other skills.

“We are showing them things that we might think are just second nature and just common sense, but they may have never had anyone show them that,” she said.

Jefferson County Superintendent Marty Pollio told the committee that Jefferson County is including success skills as one of the three components of the district’s new “What’s in Your Backpack” program. The program is designed to collect evidence of all of the things students should be able to know and do by graduation in an online virtual backpack.

The success skills for students will include persistence, innovation, collaboration and creativity, he said.

“I believe getting a student career ready begins in kindergarten, so that means developing skills that include academic skills and also the essential skills that we want them to have,” Pollio said.

Districts have taken different approaches to teaching essential skills, with some starting in elementary school and some in high school. When Scott explained the program to 4th-graders in Spencer County, she was surprised at how many students already were thinking about careers. Students mentioned wanting to be a marine biologist, welder and pipe fitter.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know what some of the jobs were and I had to do research about them,” she said.

When students reach high school, they must complete mock interviews, shadow a job for a day and are eligible for apprenticeships, Scott said. In addition to an extra chord to wear at graduation, seniors who complete the program are guaranteed job interviews with the businesses who partner with the district, she said.

“It doesn’t mean that they give them a job, but they give them an interview and interviews are often the hardest thing to get,” she said. “So if we can help eliminate that step for these kids, that’s a big step toward a bright future for them.”

Students who earn the work ethic seal on their diploma and choose to attend college still will be eligible for the guaranteed job interviews whenever they choose, she said.

“My goal is that, when our students walk across that stage, they are either going to be going straight to college or have a job,” Scott said. “I think this program really does target and help all kids to help them get ready.”


Brandy Scott