SNHU Receives $1 Million Google Grant to Design a Soft Skills Assessment for Opportunity Youth

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) has been awarded a $1 million grant from Google.org to explore soft skills assessments for opportunity youth-individuals aged 16-24 who are not enrolled in school and are either under or unemployed.

As many employers consistently identify soft skills, such as grit, teamwork and trustworthiness, as amongst the most important traits for on-the-job success, there is currently no easy way to test or validate these skills in a credible and tangible way, and researchers suggest that these skills are likely to grow in importance as the future of work changes. With the grant, SNHU, working with a variety of partners, will work toward a solution to this challenge by building and deploying an assessment platform designed to map in-demand soft skills for 2,000 opportunity youth and young adults in high-need areas by 2020.

"We often say that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not," said Paul LeBlanc, president, SNHU. "Through this pilot, we will test that assumption, and help under-skilled workers demonstrate their talents to employers in a meaningful way that really hasn't been done before."

"Through the Google.org Work Initiative, we're supporting new efforts to help people prepare for and connect to jobs in the changing economy. We believe that soft skills will only grow in importance as work changes, and we're excited to support SNHU as they transform the way those skills are assessed and validated." -Andrew Dunckelman, Economic Opportunity Lead at Google.org.

According to research conducted by the Sandbox ColLABorative, SNHU's strategy and innovation lab, which will be managing the grant, more than $1 trillion is spent each year on job intervention programs for young jobseekers, yet less than 5% is spent on assessments of essential workplace skills like teamwork, communication and problem solving.

"There are thousands of groups trying to solve the youth unemployment problem in America, but what we have observed is that many of the ed tech solutions are designed for higher-skilled, socially mobile youth," said Brian Fleming, executive director of the Sandbox ColLABorative. "Few have looked at the assessment challenge of soft skills as a way to help young people without a college degree translate those skills into a credible and visible certification that employers can recognize. We are excited to test this theory with Google's support."

The assessment platform will be competency based and mapped to in-demand soft skills including communication, leadership and empathy. The results will then feed into a facilitated job placement process to help inform a training model for this underserved population. SNHU will also address the lack of credentialing issue by providing those who complete this assessment with an SNHU official badge.

"Imagine a young person in Los Angeles, Boston, or Chicago. They may not have a high school diploma or college degree to show an employer but they may have been the primary caretaker for younger siblings for the past 10 years, they may be running the finances for the household, or they may have been leading a youth group at their church," said LeBlanc. "The soft skills they may learn from these life experiences are the skills they may need in the workplace, but they have no credential or proof to show employers. This assessment can help bridge that gap for both our underemployed youth and for employers who are desperately seeking to find workers with specific skills."

"In addition to technical skills, so-called 'soft skills' like teamwork, communication, tenacity, and leadership are critical to helping our young people succeed in jobs in the 21st century innovation economy," Senator Hassan said. "By helping hard-working Granite Staters demonstrate their soft skills through a new assessment platform, this grant will help SNHU connect students to good jobs in our changing economy. I commend Google, SNHU, and its partners for their commitment to ensuring that our young people have the opportunity to thrive and to helping build the strong workforce that our businesses and economy need. The public sector also needs to do its part to ensure that our young people who are not in school or work (Opportunity Youth) have the support they need to succeed, which is why I am pushing my colleagues to support programs that provide education, training, employment opportunities, and other support services for Opportunity Youth."

The pilot will begin later this year, with a goal of reaching 2,000 opportunity youth by 2020.

SNHU was among seven other grantees that received funding from Google.org as part of its work initiative, a two-year initiative to help prepare for the changing nature of work and is the only university on the list.

About Southern New Hampshire University 
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is a private, nonprofit institution with an 85-year history of educating traditional-aged students and working adults. Now serving more than 100,000 students worldwide, SNHU offers accredited undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs, available online and on its 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH. Recognized as the "Most Innovative" regional university by U.S. News & World Report and one of the fastest-growing universities in the country, SNHU is committed to expanding access to high quality, affordable pathways that meet the needs of each student. Learn more at www.snhu.edu.

Lauren Keane 
Southern New Hampshire University 
l.keane@snhu.edu | 203.695.2264

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