Dashawn Hodge is just a normal 14-year-old boy who hates cutting the grass.
“My mom told me when I get home, I gotta cut the grass,” he says. “I looked at her like, ‘No, I can’t cut the grass!”
Last summer, Hodge’s mom insisted if he didn’t want to mow, he had to do something productive with his time. She gave him another option: He could get involved with the Boys and Girls Club’s Summer Work Program, an initiative that places teenagers in paying positions.
The ultimatum left him stuck between a lawnmower and a hard place.
“My mom said, ‘I’m gonna make you [do the program], you need work experience,’” Hodge says.
After some thought, Hodge started his very first job as a youth coordinator at the Reeb Center in Columbus’s South Side.
These first jobs matter more than we might think. They give us financial sensibility, confidence, what employers refer to as “soft skills,” a catch-all term for some of the intangible qualities employers look for.
Just because they’re “soft” doesn’t mean they’re easy, though, or less desirable than “hard skills.” In fact, a new study found that job recruiters are placing a higher value on “soft skills” than ever before.
Kelly McCreight, CEO of Hamilton-Ryker Staffing and Recruiting, puts people to work in manufacturing, hospitality, and IT. McCreight has noticed this new need emerge across industries.
“Companies are much more willing to invest in training people in the hard skills if you have the soft skills which is maybe a reversal from 10-20 years ago,” she says. “They’d much rather have the soft skills there and teach them the hard skills than the other way around.”
Soft skills are often learned through on-the-job experiences. But the No. 1 obstacle for unemployed adults seeking work is a lack of job experience, a familiarity with these interpersonal skills.
Boys and Girls Club Columbus believes an early exposure to work will put students on a path to mastering soft skills and empower them to make independent decisions about their future.
Even though Hodge agreed to do the program, after the first day, he wasn’t sure he’d return. His new role working with strangers and rambunctious kids intimidated him.
“I got kinda scared,” Hodge says. “The first day I wasn't gonna come back because I didn't know how to do nothing, I didn't know how to work with kids.”
Dealing with bosses and strangers is one cause for anxiety, but something else frightened Hodge on that first day.
“Timesheet? I didn't know how to do it at all,” he recalls. “I was scared I got confused for like a good 30 minutes.”
Like many work formalities, the ability to properly fill out a timesheet is taken for granted. Familiarizing youth with basic tasks like that is another part of the Boys and Girls Club’s mission to acquaint kids with workplace culture. Students will take these skills wherever they go next – to college, to certificate programs, or to another job.
Eventually, Hodge got the hang of things. He learned how to talk to kids and, yes, figured out how to properly fill out his timesheet.
Hodge also says he realized a lesson about communication on the job.
“Don't ever be scared to ask for help, there's always somewhere to find it,” he says. “I've been using that ever since, asking people if they need help.
Asking questions helped Hodge work through those first-day jitters. At the end of the program, now he feels a new sense of autonomy. He’s grown as a decision maker, and his parents even see him as more of an adult.
“My dad says I’m more of a man than I was before” Hodge say. “This is very good work experience for my first job ever. If I didn’t do this, I’d be out there cutting grass!”