Foley: Today’s youth need variety of job skills

The president of Mount Aloysius College said today’s young people need to be prepared to handle numerous jobs during their lifetime.

“Back when I was Secretary of Labor and Industry (1991-94), the average person was expected to have four to five jobs in their lifetime — as opposed to the generation before that, where the expectation was that the average working person would have one or two jobs in a lifetime,” Tom Foley told members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club Thursday at The Casino at Lakemont Park.

Foley said the presidency of Mount Aloysius is his eighth job and fourth career.

“Today’s millennials might have 15 jobs in a lifetime. Our challenge is about preparing them for that sixth, seventh or eighth job,” Foley said.

“The world has changed more in the course of the first 20 years of our students’ lives than in the entire lifetime of most of your parents and grandparents. Some would argue that the world has changed more in their first 20 years than in the 20 centuries before they were born,” Foley said.

The world of work has changed dramatically.

“All the power that was in the computer on the Apollo rocket that took a man to the moon now sits in many of your back pockets in your iPhones. Actually your old 3- and 4G cellphones have way more brain power than those that powered Apollo,” Foley said. “The ability to use your hands to perform tasks, key requirements on the assembly lines used to build cars, has been supplanted by the ability to use your mind to think and adapt.”

Today’s young people need three types of skills to succeed — technical skills, soft skills and dispositional skills.

“Technical skills are usually specific to particular jobs but can cross over domains. Maybe only a few jobs require the skill to run robotics operations on a shop floor, but almost every job requires some knowledge of how to create and manipulate an Excel spreadsheet on a personal computer,” Foley said.

Soft skills include the ability to think critically, the ability to communicate in writing and in person, the ability to work in a team, Foley said.

Dispositional skills include how you appear at work, what time you appear at work and skills that reflect attitude, disposition, work-readiness and the like, Foley said.

Higher education plays a role in developing those skills.

“Higher education is a significant source of these skills, especially for the promotion of the so-called soft skills like critical thinking and the ability to communicate well, both orally and in writing. K-12 or what we call in Pennsylvania, basic education, is a part of that, a family is a major part of that skills education and culture is certainly part of that. All of these entities, experiences and relationships are sources of those skills,” Foley said.

Foley has a spot-on understanding of how workforce development and higher education can dovetail in their efforts to help grow successful communities, said chamber President and CEO Joe Hurd.

“By emphasizing the importance of things like soft skills, he identified areas where higher education’s efforts can be most effective to a workforce, especially at a time when their applicability seems to be diminishing,” Hurd said.

Jennifer Carney, director of South Hills School of Business & Technology’s Altoona campus, said Foley’s speech was great and touched on the core values that both South Hills and Mount Aloysius share.

“Promoting economic growth and community development is what we do as educators. We provide the training and skills for jobs in our community. This is why our articulation agreement with Mount Aloysius works. Many of our students have gone onto pursue their bachelor’s degrees at Mount Aloysius,” Carney said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.