Teach Teens the Competencies that Employers Want

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently put out a report in 2020 called Workplace Basics: The Competencies Employers Want. A person’s qualifications for employment are generally defined by a combination of their education, their experience, and their competencies. Competencies are the knowledge, skills, and abilities that workers use in their jobs and are essential to an employee’s success.

The report revealed the five most in-demand competencies across the labor market. In order, they are:

  1. communication
  2. teamwork
  3. sales and customer service
  4. leadership
  5. problem solving

So, if these are the skills that employers most want and that best predict an employee’s success, we should try to instill them in our teens now! Today’s blog discusses how we can work to teach these important competencies to our youth:


According to the report, “among the five competencies with generally high demand, communication is dominant: it has the highest demand across occupations, is in the top three most-demanded competencies within every occupational group, and is associated with the highest earnings boosts across the labor market.”

Good communication means having the ability to be an excellent listener, inspire and motivate others, speak in public, and explain complex ideas in a simple way for others to understand. It does not mean that you like to talk a lot! Here are important elements of good communication that you should teach your teen:

  • Teach your teen that they should always know what point they want to make before they speak so that they can be crystal clear and concise in what they say.
  • Demonstrate how to be an active listener and praise your teen when you notice they are trying to understand another’s point of view.
  • Encourage your teen to make oral presentations even though they feel uncomfortable. Practice in speaking to groups will help them throughout their career.
  • Explain important socializing skills, such as maintaining eye contact, smiling, being respectful, and asking questions to start a conversation.


Businesses want employees who work well with other people, contribute to groups with ideas and effort, can come to a decision with the group, and build relationships. Part of working well in a team is having a cooperative spirit, a healthy respect for different opinions and individuality, and an understanding that not every player on the team will have the primary role in leading the effort. When everyone in the workplace works together to accomplish goals, everyone benefits and achieves more. Teens can learn how to work in a team by playing team sports, joining clubs, or participating in group activities.

Customer Service

Teens need to understand why customer service is important before they will prioritize it. Make sure that you explain to teens that:

  • Customers are the reason you have a job.
  • Poor customer service loses money for the business.
  • Happy customers stay loyal, providing repeat business.
  • Unhappy customers frequently talk about their bad experiences to potential customers, ruining your reputation and making you lose out on future business.

The best way to help students understand why good customer service matters is to ask them about their own personal experiences of good and bad customer service.

Inform youth that employees who project a professional image through clothing and appearance, are courteous and helpful, and use nonverbal signals (e.g. eye contact), show customers they are approachable. They should ask open-ended questions to determine what the customer really wants and then do their best to meet the customer’s need or expectation.


Leaders are responsible, goal-oriented, willing to try new things, good with negotiating, organized, and collaborative. Ways to help teens develop these skills is through practice, so encourage your teen to:

  • set goals by identifying their priorities, breaking down the goal into smaller action steps, and planning for possible obstacles.
  • weigh the pros and cons of each option in order to make the most informed decision possible.
  • try new things and recognize that failing is only learning one way something won’t work.
  • take accountability for their actions. Remind them that when you prove yourself as responsible, others begin to rely on and trust you.
  • practice negotiating. Let your teen know that the ultimate goal in resolving conflicts or finding compromise is to achieve a “win-win” outcome, when both sides feel that they have gained something positive and that their point of view has been taken into consideration.

Problem Solving

Employers want youth to be able to work through problems on their own. When a young person feels confident in their ability to problem solve, they will not shy away from great opportunities simply because they feel intimidated. Ideal employees can think critically and creatively, contribute ideas, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment, and make decisions. Employers expect their employees to be able to use solid reasoning to accomplish their tasks and to be able to determine the best type of information technology to use in their work. Ideally, an employee should be able to understand his or her role in fulfilling the mission of the workplace. Problem solving skills are learned with practice – parents must allow their children the opportunity to deal with their own problems. Offer guidance, but allow your child the satisfaction of figuring it out for themselves. It may be hard to watch, but tackling a problem independently can give your child confidence to take on even more difficult tasks. To learn more about how to instill these skills, please read our previous blog, Teaching Problem Solving Skills.

Final Thoughts…

If you take the time to instill some of these “soft” skills in your teens now, they will be well on the road to success in their future.

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