Since Street Bean began in 2009, many youth have had the opportunity to develop skills as talented baristas, cultivating a trade that makes it possible for them to enter the specialty coffee industry while they pursue school, stable housing, and other avenues of employment.
Over the years, it’s become increasingly apparent that when youth work as apprentices in our Youth Employment Program, they learn much more than a single skill to help them find work in the future.
Through job training apprenticeships, youth learn not only the hard skills relevant to a specific industry (i.e., highly measurable skills like doing math or programming software or steaming really great latte milk), but also the soft skills necessary for any future employment opportunity.
What are soft skills? They’re the difficult to measure, but highly desirable skills and abilities like how to communicate, work on a team, be on time for your shifts, and manage your time & emotions.
And as it turns out, these soft skills are among the most important skills a young person can bring to a job interview. In a 2016 survey of over 300 managers in the U.S., four of the most-desired skills in a prospective employee were communication, organization, teamwork, and punctuality. Many youth who are homeless have not had the opportunity to learn these types of soft skills at home, like most of their stably housed peers.
While many youth who complete apprenticeships with Street Bean or our other partners may not end up with careers in the coffee or food service industry, apprentices have the opportunity to hone at least four soft skills during their apprenticeships that equip them for success no matter what career path they take.
1. How to manage personal finances
When a young person is hired on as an apprentice, part of their paid workload is to attend the New Horizons Leadership Institute, a series of weekly classes that equip youth to deal with the parts of life we all love to hate – personal finances, time management, and conflict resolution, to name a few.
One class is taught by a local banking professional, who covers everything from the basics of budgeting to understanding and learning to use credit. As apprentices receive a monthly stipend, they have the opportunity to put into practice the financial skills they learn through the Leadership Institute, like any young adult who’s just begun working.
2. How to communicate well
Anyone who has worked a job knows that the first few days can be nerve-wracking, especially in the service industry. There are customers to serve & keep happy, and any mistake can reflect poorly on the business.
Youth at New Horizons have a safe place to fail on the job. We expect punctuality, good communication, and good work ethic from apprentices, but we also understand that circumstances may affect someone’s ability to deliver on all of those qualities every day.
The Youth Employment Program aims to create a safe place and clear system in which youth learn to communicate their needs and ask for help when necessary without fear of punishment or job termination. As we create a safe place for this kind of on-the-job communication, youth have the opportunity to learn to call in to work if they’re going to be late or out sick, to find other coworkers to cover shifts, and how to deal with conflicts on the job.
3. How to manage time
Simply having a time and place they must be somewhere compels many apprentices to schedule their time more intentionally. It creates a schedule around which youth can work on their hobbies and other activities, and the structure of a schedule generally invites more stability than life on the streets.
Some Leadership Institute classes offer tips on time management and similar soft skills, and our Youth Employment Coordinator and Case Managers frequently listen to youth who are working on developing good work & time management habits.
4. How to invest in themselves through other opportunities
Many apprentices use job training as a step toward their other goals. Often, once youth get a job through the Youth Employment Program and a stable place to sleep in The Nest, they begin taking even more steps toward stability, like pursuing a high school diploma, starting community college, or applying for undergraduate programs.
It’s encouraging to watch young people begin to believe even more deeply in their own potential once they begin working regularly. It’s not necessarily the tasks or to-do’s associated with the job that make a difference; often, it’s merely the opportunity to contribute as equals that encourages youth to pursue longer term goals.
Recently, a young woman walked out of class eager to examine how much of hers & her boyfriend’s budget was going toward coffee. When she returned with the verdict, she was understandably less excited, but quite determined to spend less on the caramel lattes she’d grown to love at Street Bean, all because of what she’d learned through the Leadership Institute.
And while it’s disappointing to learn that it might be a better choice not to drink so many caramel lattes, it’s exciting to see her and many others in the Youth Employment Program putting the soft skills they’re learning into practice.