Social Emotional Learning Skills to Enhance Career Readiness of Young Adolescents

By Carrie B. Sanders and Keith M. Davis

There is a growing body of research in the career readiness literature that suggests a positive correlation between the development of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills and the skills employers are expecting in their employees. The consensus is that schools can and should attend to students’ social and emotional development to advance productive outcomes in college and career readiness, as well as positive mental health and relationships (Allbright, et. al, 2019).

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Importance of Developing Social and Emotional Learning Skills

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), cognitive and mental requirements of civilian workers required interaction with the public (77.3%) and a varying work pace (56%). In addition, the cognitive demands of occupations included the need to accept feedback through both formal and informal workplace review processes. Evaluations assess the employee’s ability to adapt to changes in the pace of work, solving problems and effectively interacting with others. These skills are introduced, developed and enhanced through the teaching and process. Learning these intrapersonal and interpersonal skills is important because it helps students cope with stress, develop resilience, and maintain a sense of optimism when situations are challenging (Guilbaud et al., 2022).

Cognitive, manual, and interpersonal skills offer quite different productive attributes (Lise & Postel-Vinay, 2020). Gaps in these skills impact worker mobility which affects opportunities for personal and professional satisfaction for students in the future. Schools and communities can identify, develop and maintain support to foster effective teaching, learning, modeling and practicing of these skills to prepare students for success.

Core Competencies for Skill Development

Durlak et al. (2011) identified five SEL core competencies that formed the basis for skill development in adolescents, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision-making. The development of these skills contributes to social competence and offers value by promoting meaningful and productive human interactions. These non-academic skills can be taught, modeled, and practiced in schools, and are transferable to the world of work.

Incorporating Strategies into Practice

In a study investigating which SEL strategies work in schools, Allbright et al. (2019) identified four strategies directed toward students. These strategies can be tailored or integrated within Tier 1 and Tier 2 delivery interventions and are summarized below:

  1. Promote positive school climate and relationships – this includes whole school culture-building, promoting personal interactions for building trust in relationships, and inclusion strategies through such practices as:
    • using advisory periods to further build relationships by practicing social skills and discussing issues like bullying and processing difficult issues happening on and off campus;
    • forming bridge programs for students entering school; organizing student volunteers to reach out to lonely or isolated students.
  2. Support positive behavior – this includes helping teachers focus on motivations for students acting out or demonstrating poor social skills, setting and enforcing clear values and expectations through direct instruction and positive rewards systems, and targeted approaches for struggling students through counseling and multi-tiered support systems.
  3. Offer elective courses and extracurricular activities – these provide additional opportunities for not only forming trusting relationships between teachers and students, but also tap into students’ natural curiosities and interests. Electives and after-school programs can include sports, music, yoga, or STEM activities and clubs with the goal of modeling effective communication and group interaction skills, as well as promoting kindness, compassion, and positive behavior while doing things students enjoy.
  4. SEL-specific classroom practices and curricula – these include strategies to promote a positive classroom environment, strategies for managing emotions, and modeling appropriate language and mindsets through structured opportunities to work collaboratively to redo and improve homework and tests to reduce pressure and demonstrate that students can improve over time with consistent effort, as well as communicate their needs for help with appropriate language.

The goal of these core SEL competencies and strategy categories is for students to learn which behavioral, emotional, and cognitive skillsets will be necessary for transferring to college and career readiness.

Implications for Career Readiness

Preparing young adolescents for post-secondary life requires intentional teaching and structured opportunities to practice social and emotional skills. In addition to building their skillsets, young adolescents need to experience the process of giving and receiving feedback with both their peers and trusted adults. This creates an opportunity for young adolescents to hear the perceptions of others and know where their strengths lie and potential areas for growth they may not have considered.

Middle school is a time when young adolescents develop their post-secondary plans as they prepare for the transition to high school. Both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are important areas of development for this life transition. A successful transition requires adolescents to be engaged in the process of developing their own social competence to support their future success.



Allbright, T. N., Marsh, J. A., Kennedy, K. E., Hough, H. J., & McKibben, S. (2019). Social-emotional learning practices: Insights from outlier schools. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning, 12(1), 35-52.

Cluskey, K. & Monaco, K. (2021). Minds at work: what’s required according to the Occupational Requirements Survey. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics'. Beyond the Numbers: Special Studies & Research, (10)5. https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-10/minds-at-work-whats-required-according-to-the-occupational-requirements-survey.htm

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

Guilbaud, P., Sanders, C., Hirsch, M.J., Guilbaud, T. C. (2022). Social-emotional competence for the greater good: Exploring the use of serious game, virtual reality and artificial
intelligence to elicit prosocial behaviors and strengthen cognitive abilities of youth, adolescents and educators – A systematic review. In J. Y. C. Chen, G. Fragomeni (Eds.), Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality: Design and Development (pp. 423-442). Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-05939-1_29

Lise, J., & Postel-Vinay, F. (2020). Multidimensional skills, sorting, and human capital accumulation. American Economic Review, 110(8), 2328-2376.


Carrie B SandersCarrie Sanders, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Counselor Education at Radford University in Radford, Virginia. Dr. Sanders has over 20 years in the fields of education, counseling, training, and leadership. Throughout her career, Dr. Sanders has held a variety of positions which include working as a teacher, school counselor, director of children & youth programs, community college advisor, special research faculty and counselor educator. As a counselor educator, she has taught and supervised both masters-level and doctoral-level students. Dr. Sanders has presented her work at local, national and international conferences and has published her work in journals both in and outside of the counseling field.  Areas of research interest include career counseling efforts in K-12, school counselor development, experiential teaching and learning, and wellness of school counselors. Dr. Sanders can be contacted at csanders27@radford.edu


Keith DavisKeith M. Davis, Ph.D., NCC, is a Professor in the Counselor Education Department at Radford University. Dr. Davis teaches courses in both school and clinical mental health counseling and has 20+ years of experience teaching, working as an elementary and high school counselor, family intervention specialist, and an EAP therapist. Dr. Davis’ research interests include international education and the internationalization of the counseling profession, men’s issues and male development over the lifespan, and the incorporation of brief family interventions employed by school counselors working with school-aged youth and their families. Dr. Davis can be contacted at kdavis188@radford.edu


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Juliet Jones-Vlasceanu   on Monday 01/30/2023 at 05:41 PM

Great, timely article, your findings are also reinforced through the ASCA National Model for school counseling programs. Thanks for the citations, it's ironic that the informative Occupational Requirements survey is not actually used by the SSA, pointed out recently in this Seattle Times article: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/social-security-denies-disability-benefits-based-on-list-with-jobs-from-1977/

Ravinder Thakur    on Thursday 03/09/2023 at 03:24 AM

Thank you for highlighting the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills for enhancing the career readiness of young adolescents. SEL skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, are critical for helping young people navigate the challenges of the modern workforce.

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