Why The Skills Library?

Skills Library LogoThis October marks the twentieth anniversary of my business, The Skills Library.  I am celebrating the anniversary with a series of short articles about the work I have been doing.   

First, why did I choose this name? 

The name started as a brainstorming exercise. While thinking about starting the business, I created a list of words related to employment, careers and job markets.  I listed words like “work”, “job”, “career”, “skills”, “future”, etc., and put the words in two columns.  Then I drew lines between the columns, contemplating various combinations of words.   Skills Library sounded good.   Definitely “SKILLS” because I wanted the business to be focused on supporting people in developing career skills, with a mission to engage people in understanding how various skills form the foundation for successful careers.  And I wanted to create a collection of resources that would support youth programs, schools, agencies and organizations in this mission, and so the word “LIBRARY” was a good fit.

The word “library” resonates with people.  A library can be either personal or public.  It is a place where you can find a useful, interesting and thoughtfully-assembled collection of materials. It is a place you can borrow from, and, in the case of a public library, a place you can claim as your own.   A library implies an exchange of information, reflecting the openness that represents the best of a contemporary information-based economy.   

The Skills Library is a big name for a solo business, and I was a little nervous about whether I could grow into the name.   There was the obvious risk of being mistaken for a public library, and I have, in fact, received many phone calls asking if I was the local public library.   More times than I can count, I’ve given out the local library’s phone number, occasionally told a caller when the public library would be open, and even gotten into a debate about local history with a caller who thought I might be a reference librarian.   And even when not being mistaken for a local library, I worried a little at those moments when someone asked, “What is the Skills Library?” and I answer “oh, that’s just me, that’s my consulting business.” 

But meanwhile, I am happy that the business has grown into the name.  Although I continue to work as a solo entrepreneur, it’s rarely “just me” since I have had part-time employees, interns and various partners working with me on many projects.   And more than that, clients take ownership of the projects, from databases to curriculum websites to skills portfolios to how-to-guides.   I am delighted when I hear people refer to a Skills Library database with a sense of ownership, thinking of it as their own database where their information, program accomplishments and program reports are found.  I am delighted when I check web traffic reports and I notice that materials that I have written about skills and careers are being widely read and shared.  And I am delighted when new projects continue to come my way, with the goodwill earned from one project spilling over into invitations to launch more new projects.  

Celebrating a twenty year anniversary feels good!   Stay tuned for some more reflections over the next few weeks. 


Seven Skills for Jobs/Internships in Health and Wellness

Herb gardens
In many summer job programs, youth work as peer leaders, leading health and wellness opportunities.  This peer leadership model will be especially popular this summer, with a variety of grants and programs encouraging health and wellness activities.

Peer leaders might design and lead workshops, classes, sports or fitness events; help to organize health fairs; share nutrition information; participate in gardening and food projects; or lead other other health-and-wellness-related special projects and events.  Peer leaders develop brochures, posters, webpages and other communications about health and wellness issues.  Peer leaders talk to peers, looking closely at the factors that motivate people toward health and wellness and at the barriers that detract from health and wellness.

What are some of the skills that youth develop through these programs?  Here is a sample set of “seven skills/tasks” drawn from sample Work-Based Learning Plans.

Health Awareness Demonstrating awareness of healthy behaviors, such as nutrition, diet, exercise and stress reduction. Developing activities to encourage others to explore healthy behaviors.
Creative and Critical Thinking Using available resources and working with peers to develop creative ideas for programming, marketing and messaging.
Managing Information Conducting surveys; Collecting sign-in sheets; and gathering other information to track health information, event attendance and other outcomes.
Research Using a variety of resources to conduct research about healthy behaviors, event opportunities and other topics.
Media and Technology Updating the organizational website and social media pages to share information and/or promote special events.
Awareness of Child and Adolescent Development Demonstrate awareness and understanding of age appropriate activities, communication and behavior for the targeted age groups.
Journal Writing  Maintaining a reflection journal throughout the summer program.

Youth Development and Summer Jobs

A reflection on the concept of “youth development” in the context of youth summer jobs …..
Photo of student in summer internship
The concept of Youth Development is used to design youth programs through a positive lens, viewing youth as positive assets to the community and understanding the positive experiences that contribute to personal development.   Youth development theory emphasizes the idea of focusing on assets rather than deficits, viewing youth employment programs and summer jobs programs not as “keeping kids off the streets” or “crime prevention”, but as positive opportunities for youth to develop skills, make a contribution to the community, earn money, gain work experience, gain career awareness and build a resume.

In the spirit of youth development, it is useful to recognize the assets that youth bring to their jobs, as well as to understand the developmental needs of youth as they gain their first work experiences.  Therefore, when supervising youth in youth employment programs, finding the right level of supervisory support is important. As teens and young adults begin their early work experiences, they bring a mixture of skills and readiness to these experiences. Teens and young adults have an emerging ability for complex reasoning and intellectual development. They are excited by opportunities to learn about the background and history of an organization, understand the larger context of their work, and understand how their work contributes to the goals of the organization. They appreciate settings in which they are respected and treated like adults.

At the same time, while youth are starting to develop higher-level skills and learn about careers and work, they generally need clear guidance about how to manage workplace expectations for time management, attendance and punctuality, workplace appearance, taking initiative and other basic skills.

Many youth employment programs provide orientation sessions and workshops to provide coaching about basic workplace expectations and skills as well as other topics. Programs also use informal, one-on-one coaching to support youth.

In many/most programs in Massachusetts,  the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plan helps to open up conversations between supervisors and youth about a range of topics relevant to skill development.

  • Use the Work-Based Learning Plan (WBLP) as a tool to open up conversations about the context of the work, the history and goals of the organization, and other topics of interest, as well as to outline the basic foundation skills needed on the job. Communicate excitement about the organization and its role in the community.  Share information about the organizational history, current projects, the number of customers or visitors, etc.
  • When writing a job description and list of skills/tasks, include information about “who, what, when, where, why, how” in order to share information about the context of the work.
  • Emphasize workplace safety through Work-Based Learning Plans and through formal or informal orientation to the workplace.
  • Include a mixture of special projects and routine day-to-day job duties in the design of summer jobs, in order to provide an experience that gives students a broad look at a variety of work projects and tasks in your field.
  • Throughout the WBLP and other program materials, use language that sets a positive, professional tone.
  • Read more about designing job descriptions at http://skillspages.com/masswbl/index.php/powerpoint-presentations in the presentation “Writing Job Descriptions and Skills/Tasks”

In workshops about the Work-Based Learning Plan for youth employment program staff, I often ask participants to think about the best summer job they ever had.  Images of working at a favorite ice cream shop, a family-owned dress shop, a beach, a farm, a playground, a zoo and many other diverse workplace settings enter the conversation.  Images of informal mentoring, a sense of “belonging” and a sense of accomplishment are important.  These are the positive moments of summer for youth and young adults working in first jobs.

Creativity + School-to-Career Experiences

At the May 19th Massachusetts School-to-Career Connecting Activities conference, school partners in the Massachusetts Creativity & Innovation grant program displayed the projects that they have developed.  Displays included projects about robotics, design & innovation, math, physics, biology and the arts.   Participating schools have designed curriculum that engages students in “design thinking” and in the opportunity to experiment, tinker and try-out ideas, with the idea that sometimes there will be visible great results and sometimes failure and a chance to keep experimenting.

The creativity theme intermingled with the traditional themes of the Connecting Activities conference — career exploration, employer engagement, creating high-quality work experiences for students.  How does the theme of creativity fit into this work?   Several different connections –

1.) The creativity projects provide examples of approaches for connecting authentic, challenging, creative work into classrooms, allowing students to experience and build personal and career skills in design thinking, innovation, technology, the arts and more.

2.) The creativity projects highlight the ways that creative thinking is relevant across many fields of study, career areas and aspects of life.  Creativity is important in classrooms, personal life, community and career; in science, technology, engineering, arts, math, entrepreneurship, retail, food, media, education, nonprofit organizations & more.

3.) The  projects highlight the idea that there is a cluster of skills – communication, collaboration, leadership, critical and analytical thinking, research, persistence and more – that support creativity and innovation.  The featured speaker, Ayora Berry from PTC, also highlighted the idea that the best creative thinking happens when people combine broad knowledge and experiences across many subjects and topics with in-depth knowledge of a particular topic.   Students need opportunities to develop breadth of knowledge and experience at the same time that they are beginning to discover favorite subjects and career areas where they will focus in-depth study.

4.) Formal and informal apprenticeship is a key part of most creative career paths.  Many teachers, supervisors and career counselors have a gift for helping students to see the long-term career skills embedded in all kinds of entry-level job and early work experiences.


Where do everyday examples of creativity show up in the work-based learning placements sponsored by Connecting Activities?  Here are some examples drawn from sample Work-Based Learning Plans.

Business and Entrepreneurship

  • Creating marketing materials
  • Developing product ideas

Retail and Sales

  • Arranging clothing for display with an eye for color
  • Designing signs for retail displays
  • Mixing and matching items for display
  • Suggesting products that can meet customer needs; expanding options; thinking outside the box


  • Writing
  • Developing story ideas

Cable Television

  • Creating interesting topics for video production.

Culinary Arts

  • Adding your own spin to a recipe.
  • After reviewing with their site supervisor, creating your own recipe from scratch.
  • Designing the presentation of a dish you have made.


  • Working with color and shape to enhance garden and landscape design.
  • Working on signage for a park.

Graphic Design / Sign Design

  • Graphic design of signs, posters, brochures, flyers, other materials
  • Thinking outside the box with various tasks assigned


  • Developing games and craft projects
  • Storytelling


  • Developing ideas for a new organic farming project for a science department.
  • Creating meaningful and engaging study guides, vocabulary lists, assessments/quizzes and other materials
  • Creating bulletin boards and displays
  • Creating insightful, relevant questions on a specific text for use in classroom small group discussions.


  • Creating flyers to educate others on health and nutrition topics
  • In a nursing home activities program, modifying planned activities as needed to facilitate resident participation.


  • Creative approaches to visually presenting information.
  • Creative problem solving
  • Creative organizational strategies
  • Creatively using social media to market and promote products, services and activities


What other examples do you have? As you are helping to shape student work experiences, think about ways that you can highlight the potential for creativity in these experiences.

First Career Steps Survey: Career Development Opportunities

What are schools in your community doing to help students explore career options and plan for the future?  How could your community do more? The First Career Steps Survey asks students about the career exploration and planning activities they have done, as well as asking an open-ended question about what their school does that is most helpful.  The responses provide a strong testimony to the importance of career planning opportunities.  The more experiences students have, the more likely they are to say that they are confident and excited about their future.  They are more confident about their career skills and more likely to have identified possible career goals.

Most students indicated that they have talked to parents and friends about careers, showing that career planning is important to them.  More than half have explored websites or books to gather career information.   In comments, many mention searching online for career information, and indicate a strong desire to learn as much as they can, participating in classroom activities and school-wide events that support career exploration.  Many express gratitude for what their schools do, and/or suggest that they would like their school to do more, to provide connections with local businesses, including opportunities to learn about, visit and work in career areas that interest them.

The activities on this list present a menu of options for schools, communities and local businesses to provide support for students and their families as they work to explore career options.


About this project:  This article is part of a series of articles about the First Career Steps survey results.  The First Career Steps survey is a project of The Skills Library, an ongoing survey from 2011 to the present, with over 3,200 responses to date.

Question 5: Which of the following have you done?  (check all that apply)
Based on Grade 12 respondents only (572 of the 3,280 respondents)

Percent of Grade 12 Respondents
Talking with parents about careers 81%
Talking with friends about careers 77%
Looking at websites, videos or books about careers 54%
Career interest checklists/assessments 39%
Hearing guest speakers about careers at my school 37%
Career days or Career fairs 31%
Volunteer work 31%
Summer job(s) 30%
After-school job(s) 28%
Classroom projects related to career interests 22%
Field trips to companies and workplaces 18%
Clubs or activities related to career interests 17%
Job shadow days 14%
Internship(s) 9%
Summer program(s) related to career interests 8%
None of the above 2%

Choosing Postsecondary Paths – Work, Military, Apprenticeship & More

Through the online First Career Steps Survey, The Skills Library has been gathering insights into high school students’ career planning. The survey, now with over 3,200 results, is available from the Skills Library home page or directly from this link.

With a trend toward more and more students entering college after high school, it is not surprising that most – 87.4% of respondents – indicate that they are planning to attend a 2-year or 4-year college after high school.

But what are the plans of the 12.6% who are not currently planning to attend college?  At this point, there are 411 survey respondents who indicated plans other than college, from a total of 3,259 survey respondents.  Many of these 411 respondents have specific plans: working full-time, entering the military, attending a career training program, entering an apprenticeship program.

Some are planning a “gap” year to work before starting college, sometimes saying that they want to work fulltime before going on to college; others mentioning specific plans such as spending a gap year in Israel or to spend a year writing a book.

When asked about specific career interests, many of the non-college-bound group have specific goals, mentioning military careers, construction trades and other career options.  Some of the career areas mentioned include carpentry, culinary, cosmetology, childcare, horse training, house painting, law enforcement, masonry, plumbing, pipefitting, truck driving and welding.  A few of those who plan to work full-time mention “working for my dad” – reflecting the once-more-common path of working for a family business.

This data provides a conversation-opener about alternative paths after high school.  With the current emphasis on college, are schools and youth programs doing enough to support other options and to help students find and navigate the wider variety of postsecondary choices?

Skills Library research and projects show that most of the strongest schools and youth programs show students that there ARE a wide range of postsecondary choices.   Rather than a polarized “college or work” set of choices, those who work closely and observantly with youth see a healthy range of options, with a blend of school, work, apprenticeship, on-the-job training and formal and informal learning as important elements in career and life paths.  They also see the early post-high-school years as being about much more than career development.  These are years when young adults are shaping their own approaches to all aspects of life, making day-to-day choices around not only careers and work, but also community involvement, civic engagement, voting and politics, faith/religious involvement, health, diet, exercise, and much more.   Many of the same skills that help young adults to navigate first career steps are valuable in navigating in all of these other day-to-day aspects of life.   Knowing how to network with others.  Finding mentors.  Communication skills.  Knowing how to use (or how to learn to use) all kinds of tools and technology.  Knowing how to analyze information.  Creativity and critical thinking.  An attitude of lifelong learning.

Food for thought:  What trends have you seen?  What are some promising career paths that are accessible through apprenticeship, on-the-job training and other full-time employment paths?  What is your school, youth program or community doing to support and acknowledge young adults choosing a variety of different paths after high school?  If you are a young adult who went from high school to work, training, apprenticeship or other options, what are the elements that have made it work well for you?



Seven Skills for Parks and Landscaping

What are the skills learned in jobs and internships in parks and landscaping?  How can summer jobs in park maintenance and landscaping be designed to help youth build skills and explore career options?  What types of projects and tasks enhance learning?  Here is an example of seven skills, with associated tasks, taken from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Horticulture and Plant Knowledge Demonstrate knowledge of garden plants, weeds and invasive species through successfully performing professional tasks including transplanting, watering, weeding and invasive plant removal.
Time Management Maintain a safe and steady pace of work.  Select tasks and manage workflow according to the availability of tools and materials, team members, weather and other factors.
Leadership Exercise critical thinking, creativity and leadership through participation in park improvement projects.  Projects may include, for example, creating or improving garden beds, upgrading signage in the park, repainting or refinishing benches and other park features, or other special projects.
Managing information / Using technology Collect and organize information in support of park projects.  Projects may include, for example, digital photography for park websites or end-of-summer presentations; maintaining a database of landscape plants or invasive species, updating a map of park features, or other special projects.
Using tools and equipment Select and use tools and equipment to complete park projects.  Demonstrate knowledge of how to select the best tools and equipment for each project; how to work safely with tools and equipment; and how to clean, store and maintain tools and equipment.
Environmental awareness Though special projects and/or end-of-summer presentations, demonstrate awareness of environmental themes related to park operations.
Career awareness Though special projects and/or end-of-summer presentations, demonstrate awareness of the roles of various professionals and volunteers in management of the park.


First Career Steps Survey: Student Career Interests

Report analysis by Jennifer Leonard and Tacara Guice.  Tacara Guice, database intern for The Skills Library, categorized the open-ended responses and prepared the graphics for this report.   Read more about The Skills Library on the “About” page.

The First Career Steps Survey asks students to list up to four career areas that they might be interested in.  Approximately 2,500 students have responded to the survey, identifying a variety of career areas.   The question is open-ended, with students writing in their career interests – some with specific goals such as wildlife photographer, pediatric nurse or sports psychologist; others with broad goals like working with children or starting a business.

We categorized the answers into groups, looking for common answers in order to define groups of similar interests.    Display 1 presents this analysis.  In the graphic, each icon represents approximately 25 students who expressed interest in the career area.

Go to Display 1 (opens in new window)

There were several clusters of common interests.

Students are attracted to fields that are large, highly visible and offering economic growth:

  • Healthcare – a large, highly visible and growing field.
  • Education,  Childcare, Human Services, Social Work and Counseling – large, visible fields offering a chance to “make a difference.”
  • Engineering – with many students mentioning a variety of specific engineering fields as well as engineering in general.
  • Law and Law Enforcement – with many students expressing interest in police work, forensics, FBI, law and other work in law and public safety.
  • Business – with some students expressing interest in business in general, or in specific concentrations.
  • Various science and math interests — especially biology, zoology and wildlife, along with veterinary and animal care occupations.

Many students listed popular fields that offer opportunities for creativity, a bit of glamour, or connections to trends in popular culture:

  • Game Design, Animation and Video Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Cosmetology
  • Graphic Design
  • Performing Arts
  • Sports, Fitness and Recreation

There are some career areas – especially some technology and technical areas – that were mentioned by relatively few students and that probably should get more attention:

  • Information Technology / Computer Programming / Networking
  • Web Design
  • Manufacturing / Skilled Trades
  • Mechanic / Repair / Skilled Trades

This data can be used for:

– Inspiration for lesson plans that apply academic work to career areas that naturally interest students.  Math and fashion design.  Science and forensics.  English Language Arts and journalism.
– Guidance for developing internships and inviting guest speakers to highlight career areas of interest.
– Guidance for increasing awareness in “under-noticed” career areas, in order to let students know about areas they might have overlooked.
– Food for thought for conversations with students about how to choose viable career paths.  What do you do with a passion for sports or acting or animation or fashion design?  Where can these interests lead you?  How do you balance the advice of “pursue your dreams” vs.  “be practical” vs. “seek out unique ways to turn your interests into a career?”

It is important to note that we don’t expect students to identify career interests in proportion to each career area’s share of the labor market.  In fact, other Skills Library surveys show that most adults didn’t know when they were in high school that they would be in their current career area.  Successful careers take shape over time.   Students will naturally be attracted initially to visible, well-known career areas.  These initial career interests are just a starting point.  From the inspiration of earliest career interests, students will gradually shape a career path, with the support of mentors, career information, early career experiences, and inspiring classes and teachers.  These early interests are a great place to start.

First Career Steps Survey Results: Building Confidence About the Future

In 2012, the Skills Library launched a survey called “First Career Steps Survey.”   Since the survey launch, over 2,500 students have taken the survey.   The original survey was shared with Massachusetts students through a network of career programs.  Since then, the survey remained online and has been “discovered” by many different schools, programs and individual students.  About half of the respondents indicated that they were directed to take the survey through their schools and community programs and about half indicated that they found the survey online when they were searching the web.  A few were referred to the survey by a friend or family member who found it online.   The respondents appear to come from all over the U.S., along with at least a few from Canada.

The survey is designed to be a positive, reflective experience.   The tone of the survey is designed to be reassuing, recognizing that career development is a long-term process, and that many high school students are just beginning to explore and set goals.  The survey takes about five to ten minutes to complete online, with the majority of respondents completing the survey in ten minutes or less.

Question 1 begins with an introduction and then asks respondents how they feel about career planning.  This question was designed to set a tone for the questionnaire, as well as to serve as a warm-up for respondents and provide a general sense about how confident, excited, or worried students feel about their career planning.

Question 1. HOW DO YOU FEEL when people ask you about your career plans? Do you feel confident, worried, ready for the future, or not-so-ready? DID YOU KNOW that many successful adults did not know when they were in high school that they would be in their current careers? Of course, many people chose a career path early on, studied for a particular career, and have enjoyed that career path all along. But for many people, careers evolve over time, as one career opportunity leads to another, and as they continually learn new skills and build their careers.  THIS SURVEY asks about your current career plans — with the assurance that it is fine if your career plans are continuing to evolve!!  Check all that apply —




vennThere is overlap among these categories. Not surprisingly, many students are both worried and excited…. both confident and excited….. even confident and worried and excited at the same time.

Are there factors that seem to be correlated with confidence and excitement about the future?  The survey goes on to ask about career goals, about career awareness, exploration and immersion experiences, and about confidence in a variety of career-related skills.  Clear patterns emerge:

* Students who have had in-depth career immersion experiences, including internships, summer programs related to career interests, and clubs and activities related to career interests, are most likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

* Students who have had more than one type of work experience — internships, after-school jobs, summer jobs and volunteer work,  are also most likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

* Students who took the survey through a school or community program (rather than finding the survey on their own) are also more likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

* Students who expressed high levels of confidence in their career skills in Question 6, a question that asks about career-related skills such as leadership, creative thinking, communication and professionalism, are also most likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

Question 6 asks students how confident they feel about career-related skills.  Students seemed to answer thoughtfully, providing a range of responses, showing in which areas they felt strong and in which not yet strong.  Like the responses to Question #1, these responses were strongly correlated to career awareness, exploration and immersion experiences.  Students who had had participated in internships, summer programs, career-related clubs and classes and other in-depth experiences showed the most confidence in these skills.

Question 6: How would you rate your strength in the following career skills?






Seven Skills for Arts Internships

Word CloudWhat are the skills learned in arts-related internships and summer jobs?  How is the practice of creativity and artistic skills in a professional art studio different from in a classroom setting?  What are the practical skills used in careers in the arts?

Internship experiences in the arts can allow students to work with mentors on arts projects — learning about the business and marketing aspects of careers in the arts , learning professional techniques,  learning how to give and receive feedback on artwork, learning to take creativity to a new level. What skills do students practice in arts internships?

Here is an example of seven skills, taken from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Creativity and Critical Thinking Generating ideas and concepts; working with colleagues to evaluate options and make choices. Being fluent in generating one’s one ideas while also being open to ideas of others.
Gallery Space Design Organizing and enhancing selling space in a gallery.
Hanging an Exhibition Understanding and applying best practices for presenting artwork for an art exhibition.
Framing, glass cutting, matting Learning and practicing techniques for mounting and framing artwork.
Computer Technology and Equipment Operation Using software, cameras, and other equipment to produce digital images, prints, brochures and other marketing and display materials.
Research Gathering information about clients, local organizations, local history, and other topics related to artistic work, public art, marketing and communications.
Artistic Technique Gaining fluency in techniques relevant to the project, such as sketching, painting, mixed-media, collage, calligraphy, ….