Who isn’t nervous when applying for their first job? It’s a scary process, and when you’re a teenager it’s easy to feel out of your league or at least lost when walking through the maze of seeking employment. Add that to entering today’s dismal prospective job market and the stakes of not finding employment become even higher.
Recently I’ve had the good fortune of observing The Key Class, which is taught through the Santa Barbara Teen Court and many Santa Barbara high schools. Founded by John Daly, the series of four classes serves as a platform from which teens walk away with social and business skills, interviewing techniques and overall practical tips that will affect the quality of their lives forever.
Connor McClelland, a senior at UCSB, joined The Key Class as an instructor and logistical coordinator in April of this year. Sitting in on the current series offered through Teen Court, I’ve watched him master the challenge of captivating and holding the attention of normally rambunctious teenagers. Not an easy task.
But this class is not about history or math, it’s about them. They get it. They’re being given practical tools and skills to use not only to improve their chances of getting a job or entering college but that will immeasurably make a difference throughout their lifetime.
In just two classes I’ve watched these kids change. There’s the painfully shy kid who doesn’t look up while speaking almost inaudibly. The disruptive class clown who has decided his job is to have all eyes on him.
Within in an hour into class both of these kids are standing in front of the class talking one-to-one, practicing effective communication techniques. They’re learning how to ask open-ended questions, to listen, to smile and to look directly at the eyes instead of the ground.
When McClelland tells them, “Listen to what people are saying then repeat it back to them. They’ll think you’re smart,” the kids break out in laughter.
The second class was held at Macy’s, where they listened to Debbie Kennedy, a department manager speak about interview dressing, advising them to always dress one step above.
Inspired, they were set free in the store to choose and put on an interview outfit that would be appropriate for the business environment in which they were applying for a job. Twenty minutes later, they walked back into class with their outfits on — literally beaming.
Not only could you see pride in their faces, but their choices were well-thought-out. Casual sports shirt and pants for a sports store. Dress shirt and ties for most companies. McClelland taught them the art of tie-tying.
An entirely different demeanor and attitude accompanied the clothes. Their smiles were broader and they stood taller, carrying themselves with a newfound self-assuredness. Fascinated, I watched these kids become young adults.
McClelland wisely told them they did not need to lose their quirky and kick-back ways, but to leave them at home when entering the work world. He advised them to walk in a business and ask for an application while checking out the business environment in order to dress appropriately for their interview. He had them practice techniques in how to approach the manager before the scheduled interview, face-to-face, to increase their chances of being hired.
“When these kids complete the series, I watch them leave with a newly instilled confidence,” McClelland said.
Halfway through the series I can already see it.
After the series is finished, both McClelland and Daly encourage the kids to stay in touch with them. They’re willing to help them fill out applications, write resumes and do mock interviews. Plus, they share resources and contacts with them.
Through Partners in Education, the classes will be expanded to all Santa Barbara schools by 2013. Plus, Daly will begin teaching an expanded version of The Key Class at Oxnard College in the fall of 2012.
Daly, a highly successful international event producer who has advised his Fortune 100 corporate clients on proper protocol both in the United States and around the globe for the past 30 years, has visions of expanding The Key Class to high schools and colleges nationwide in the near future.
While attending the classes it has been my privilege to witness the transformation of these teens as they learn techniques to help them succeed in both work and life environments. There’s no doubt that they will walk away with invaluable practical skills that can open doors to an extraordinary life.
John Daly, thank you for your dedication and vision. Because of you the world is definitely a better place.