Articles

Southern New Hampshire University Awarded $1 million Grant from Google

By Cait Etherington
May 07, 2018

Soft skills, by definition, refer to personal attributes that help one interact effectively with other people. Listening skills and empathy are among soft skills, but so is the ability to engage in productive and effective teamwork, even under challenging conditions. The problem with soft skills is, unlike most hard skills, they are extremely challenging to assess. In late April, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) was awarded a $1 million grant from Google.org. The grant will help the university, an established leader in online education, carry out a “soft skills assessments” for young people ages 16 to 24 who are not currently enrolled in school and are also under or unemployed.

About Southern New Hampshire University

SNHU is a private, nonprofit institution. Now 85-years old, SNHU has recently undergone a period of rapid expansion due to the ambitious scaling of its online programs. As a result,  the New Hampshire-based university now serves nearly 100,000 students around the world and offers accredited undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs. It has been recognized as the “Most Innovative” regional university by U.S. News & World Report and is currently also one of the fastest-growing universities in the country.

Why Assessing Soft Skills Matters

As stated in a press released issued by SNHU in late April, “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 their recently acquired Google grant, SNHU plans to work with several key partners to troubleshoot this very problem. Specifically, they plan to deploy an assessment platform to “map in-demand soft skills for 2,000 opportunity youth and young adults in high-need areas by 2020.”

Details released in late April indicate that the SNHU 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 President Paul LeBlanc emphasizes, “We often say that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. 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.” To illustrate why soft skills matter and how difficult they are to assess, LeBlanc offers the following example: “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. 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.”

Soft Skills and Flexible Online Education

SNHU recognizes that beyond soft skills, credentialing also matters. The pilot will begin later this year, with a goal of reaching 2,000 opportunity youth by 2020. SNHU plans to address the participants’ lack of credentialing by providing those who complete their assessment with “an official SNHU badge.” Notably, seven other institutions will also receive funding from Google as part of its work initiative, which is a two-year project designed to help prepare for the changing nature of work. Notably, however, SNHU is the only university to receive a grant as part of this specific project.