Soft skills in health careers programs: a case study of a regional vocational technical high school
Park, Chong Myung
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The purpose of this study is to develop an understanding of the ways in which educational experiences might differ between a regional vocational technical high school (RVTH) and short-term career-training programs. A particular regional vocational technical high school was selected for its outstanding academic records and placement rates, and a particular industry--healthcare--was chosen for its high demand and short supply of labor in the state. The study is a qualitative case study that primarily utilized in-depth, one-on-one interviews with semi-structured questions. The participants of this study fall into one of three groups: seniors in RVTH health services, students in the RVTH postsecondary practical nursing (PN) program, and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who received CNA training from short-term career-training programs in Massachusetts. The researcher collected additional qualitative data through various sources such as classroom observation, field notes, program descriptions, lesson plans, syllabi, and class materials. The interview data were transcribed, segmented, and coded; any relevant qualitative data were later added to supplement the interview data. There were four consistent areas raised across participants that suggest salient components of their experiences. First, school choice was made by students themselves in the cases of RVTH seniors, which might have influenced the culture of togetherness and acceptance at RVTH. Second, shop instructors played an important role in creating a school culture where students helped each other and accepted everyone. In particular, the instructors’ emotional support seemed to differentiate the educational experiences of RVTH seniors from the students in other programs. Third, all RVTH seniors frequently identified soft skills such as communication and time-management skills when reflecting on their education experiences whereas participants in the short-term programs focused on technical skills. Lastly, RVTH seniors strongly believed they were career-ready. The findings of the current research on the workplace skills students acquired in the programs showed some congruencies with the existing inter-industry literature that described the importance of certain skills, such as communication and professionalism. Participants from alternative career-training programs did not identify the same types of elements in their educational experiences. The study ends with implications by contemplating what aspects of RVTH can be replicated in which settings.