Our United Voice

4 Power Skills Kids Need to Succeed and Employers Want

Monday, April 21, 2014

By TJ Delahanty
An Out-of-School Time (OST) program is any program that offers enrichment activities to school-age youth during hours that school is not in session. And OST Programs are recognized as playing an important role in the ultimate success of our children.

Schools are aware that they cannot lay a strong foundation for academic achievement alone. Parents in our community who work know what a key role affordable, safe and supportive alternatives for school-age children play. And community leaders appreciate that many children need much more than just a safe place to “get them off the streets.”

But how exactly do OST programs instill skills in our youth?

Are our youth building the kind of soft skills that enable them to interact effectively with others? Or are they learning leadership skills, showcasing academic achievement or creating job proficiencies? Or are OST programs providing alternative activities, character building, resiliency, risk prevention or youth development?

The truth is that OST programs provide all of this and more! However, a lack of a definitive term for these skills is hurting our ability to agree on what works. We need to be clear on what each of us can do to help our young people be fully prepared for college and work and to, in time, become contributing members of our community.

Metro United Way believes that OST programs offer safe places, supportive environments and opportunities for young people to pursue interests and develop Power Skills.

While academic learning is critical to a young person’s success, it is not the sum total of what is needed.  According to Forbes Magazine (December, 2012), the top four most critical job skills employers look for are not found in the common-core academic standards. Employers are looking for applicants with Power Skills, which are found in 9 out of 10 of the most in-demand jobs. These include:

1. Critical Thinking
Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

2. Complex Problem Solving
Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

3. Judgment and Decision-Making
Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions in order to choose the most appropriate ones.

4. Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate and not interrupting.

And colleges agree! Research shows that the biggest predictor of college success is a student’s conscientiousness, as measured by such traits as dependability, perseverance through tasks and work ethic. The next-best predictors are agreeableness (including teamwork) and emotional stability, followed by variations on extroversion and openness to new experiences. These are all Power Skills.

Few of us are born with these Power Skills already in place. We acquire these skills through active learning – practice and feedback – activities that comprise the gold standard for youth development programs.

By focusing on Power Skills development, Metro United Way and OST programs are helping youth lay the foundation for future success. And you can help make an impact. Volunteer to help develop these Power Skills for our youth by lending your time and talent to an OST program in our community.

- TJ Delahanty

TJ Delahanty is the Manager, Out-of-School Time Initiatives at Metro United Way.

TJ is a native Louisvillian, but has spent a good chunk of his professional life working outside his hometown.  He is a proud graduate of the University of Louisville and Rutgers University. TJ considers himself a youth development professional and his career has led him on a winding path through Central America, South America, Washington D.C. and Frankfort, Kentucky.

TJ is quite proud that he has landed back in Louisville with his family in his chosen career, working with our community partners to support all young people to graduate high school prepared for college, work and life.

You can reach him at TJ.Delahanty@MetroUnitedWay.org and on Twitter at @MUW_OST


  1. Those are some strong skills that we should be teaching in and out of every classroom. The path two success certainly starts with listening.

    I might offer a FIFTH Power Skill to your list: Patience and Understanding. After all, our children must learn to absorb all of the information before they can act.

    Please continue your wonderful work, Mr. Delahanty

  2. Hmm. I don't think I agree with the premise. It's like the over scheduled South Korean model. I think these kids need to find interesting projects of their own, invent their own sports and games, and build things we haven't thought of yet.


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