SEL Builds a Stronger Workforce

How and Why Educators Should Teach These Skills

On September 14 Committee for Children and CASEL co-sponsored a Congressional briefing, The Importance of Employability Skills: How and Why Educators Should Teach These Skills [read the executive summary of our white paper]. The briefing was supported by the Career and Technical Education Caucus and attended by over 60 people including three members of Congress—Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH, Rep. Susan Davis, D-CA and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, co-chair of the Caucus.

Panelists’ remarks centered on how teaching social-emotional and employability skills benefit young people academically, in their careers and throughout their lives.  The group called on the Senate to act swiftly to reauthorize the Carl Perkins Career & Technical Education Act with the inclusion of important employability language. The House passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act last week with language that supported a focus on employability skills.

Joan Cole Duffell, Committee for Children Executive Director, and Karen Neimi, CEO of CASEL, opened the briefing with welcoming remarks.

Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics and CASEL board member, began his moderation of the panel by stating that “the best way to prevent bad is to promote good”; in this case, promoting social-emotional competence to improve students’ career prospects and employers’ talent pool. Shriver also shared a brief “SEL 101” overview for the audience.

Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs for IBM and President of IBM’s Foundation, stated that support for employability skills (or “essential skills” as business often refers to them) goes beyond partisan politics and unites business leaders, labor, civil rights, parents, teachers and student organizations. Teaching SEL or employability skills offers students bright futures and employers the opportunity to close the skills gap.

Rep. Davis echoed this, saying that supporting the career and technical education act was not only in business’ interest but everyone’s interest.  She was particularly concerned that teachers receive the support they need to learn the relevance of this work and transmit it to students, and hoped that industry leaders would help in planning for this aspect.

Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer of the Chicago Public Schools shared data from CPS that showed the district’s focus on SEL correlates with decreased suspensions, increased graduation rates (17% since 2011) and decreased absenteeism in a school district where 86% of students qualify as low income, 85% are students of color and 17% are English Language Learners (ELL).

R. Keeth Matheny, a high school teacher in the Austin School District and national award-winning speaker and author, emphasized how the work paradigm has shifted.  In the past, employees were hired for content knowledge, but in today’s workplace where content is at our fingertips, employers are looking for employees’ ability to apply their skills in new ways and rapidly changing environments.  He stated that “we are hired for our social-emotional skills, we are promoted for our social-emotional skills and we are fired for our lack of social-emotional skills”.  When he talked about one of his 5 strategies of collaboration “Disagree without being disagreeable” (or attack the issue without attacking the person), Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked whether he could conduct an in-service with the Senate!

Sen. Baldwin ended with a call to help tomorrow’s workforce obtain the skills they need to succeed in career and life by supporting the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. She stated that “CTE is helping kids attain the skills needed for our economy to keep growing. For our students to flourish they need SEL.”

Rep. Tim Ryan, who co-sponsored SEL legislation and wrote “A Mindful Nation,” preceded the panelist presentations with the following reflection:  “We’ve had some success in the last year to figure out how we can get more funding to make this happen. When you look at what teachers need, what students need, what employers need, to me, this is it. We need to make sure they are healthy and focused. This is what workforce development is all about. They want someone who can be connected, work on a team, focus, accomplish goals, be resilient, get knocked down, get back up and keep going. And at the end of the day, these kinds of programs save us money in the long run whether it’s the juvenile justice system or kids not learning at the pace they should be learning, so this is playing offense.”


Learn more about the Policy & Advocacy work Committee for Children does to support social-emotional learning and child safety.