Hundreds of high school students hone job-hunting skills

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Employers call them the soft skills. We're talking about personality, communication and motivation. These are things you can't develop by reading a book or attending a class.

But businesses want more people to have these skills, and that's why high school students converged on downtown Phoenix to put those skills into practice.

“Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most highly transferable skills,” came the voice over a loud speaker to a room filled with hundreds of people.

More than 500 students joined employers and politicians to work the room.

“You have to have that eye contact,” said Gary from the Microsoft Store in Scottsdale, “because so many of the young kids now, they don't speak to you right in the face.”

This was the networking exercise at the Junior Achievement “You're Hired Challenge.” It was a chance for some of these high school students to face their fears.

“It's very nerve-racking,” said Brenda Reyes. “I've never done anything like this before.”

Others were able to hone their skills that come naturally.

“I love helping people,” Dezyre Nevills said. “That's one of my main goals is helping people, and I think to become a doctor, that's one of the main qualities that you need.”

“I love talking to people,” Ben Kunze said. “I love interacting with people. It's kind of what I want to do in my career path.”

The students were dressed to rub elbows with business leaders. That is one of many lessons about work-readiness skills Junior Achievement volunteers take to the schools before this event. They also learn about networking, presenting themselves, interviewing and solving problems, all things cemented at the challenge.

“It's something I can't do in the classroom,” said Gateway Early College High School teacher Karen Hawkes. “Until they see it firsthand and see these amazing volunteers that are willing to ... spend time to shake the student's hand and meet them and learn about them, that's a piece that's so important and it's just amazing.”

The challenge is about blending education with skills that employers say their workers need.

“Former times, where we went through and provided the education, and then told them they would get the skills when they got to the job,” said David Fitzgerald of University of Phoenix. “I think employers are looking for them to come to the job with the skills today.”

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