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120 students awarded by the Department of Labor
0430SOFT crowd
Students and family members fill the First Baptist Church chapel for the first annual Georgia BEST recognition program. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Local high school students received awards for developing the soft skills that can help them in real-world workplaces.

An award ceremony was held at the First Baptist Church in Gainesville on Monday for 120 students who completed the Georgia Business Ethics Student Training program, started by the Georgia Department of Labor in 2012. It began operating in 20 Georgia schools and has expanded to 150.

The certification gives these students an advantage in the workplace. It is designed to show their future employers that they not only have a degree, but they also have what it takes to work efficiently in the real world.

The program focuses on the development of soft skills, which many employers find that young applicants lack. These skills include punctuality, dressing appropriately, effective communication, and the ability to work well with others.

“You may have exactly what the employer wants when it comes to knowing how to do the job, but if you don’t have those good customer relation skills, good work ethic skills and things like that, it still causes a huge problem for the employer,” said Mark Butler, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, at the ceremony. He initiated this pilot program and was the speaker at the awards ceremony.

He said this was prompted because of the response from the local business community asking for applicants with more than just hard, academic skills.

“We heard all throughout the state that this was a problem,” Butler said.

He also said the program is not just an easy “A.” The students are placed in real-life career situations and not tested traditionally, but critically, to reflect how the workplace environment observes an employee’s skills.

Students are reviewed based on 10 criteria. These are qualities such as discipline, character, teamwork, attendance, productivity, attitude, communication skills, respect, organization, and community service projects.

The BEST program provides equal opportunity to all students in participating high schools. It is designed so that no student is disqualified due to financial status. It also requires very little state revenue.

“The great thing about the program is that it is virtually cost-free,” Butler said. “It doesn’t cost taxpayers hardly a dime, but they get a huge benefit in the end.”

The Department of Labor is actively responding to the business community and staying updated on what needs to be highlighted when developing soft skills. The program is expected to expand to more high schools, and will also begin operating in middle schools.