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Wanted: Tools to Equip Students with Common Employability Skills

The “skills gap” is a constant drumbeat among employers pursuing innovation and growth in today’s competitive marketplace. Companies in every sector long for candidates who have the skills and credentials that meet their needs.

As often as they ask for technical, occupation-specific skills, they value foundational employability skills—like communication and problem solving—as much, if not more. These foundational skills include a strong academic grounding in reading and math, as well as individual tools such as teamwork, problem solving, work ethic and integrity. This skill set equals trainability and adaptability—the “holy grail” of workforce qualities that lead to promotion opportunities and, ultimately, career longevity.

The National Network’s Common Employability Skills (CES) framework lays out exactly the foundational skills individuals need for current and future jobs, no matter where they exist. The framework articulates economy-wide skills and describes them using a common language agreed upon by major economic sectors.

With the CES carrying so much importance, both the education and business communities have a role to play in bringing these skills to the classroom and workplace. Educators need to know how to teach these skills and how to assess their students to ensure they are equipped for the job market. Employers need to understand how to screen incoming job candidates against common employability skills while providing on-the-job training opportunities for their current employees to gain or enhance these skills.

There is no “silver bullet” assessment or training that is completely aligned to the CES framework. A close fit is ACT’s WorkKeys, a job skill assessment system that measures foundational and personal skills as they apply to the workplace. A national curriculum survey indicated that skills assessed by the portfolio of WorkKeys assessments overlap with 90 percent of the skills that comprise the National Network’s CES framework.

In lieu of an existing credential that can train to and assess in totality both the cognitive and non-cognitive skills included in the CES, there are several promising tools and practices National Network members and their colleagues are implementing:

The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS): NIMS uses the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which is part of the WorkKeys portfolio, as a foundational skills credential in its fast-track manufacturing skills work-and learn-program, Right Skills Now.

Digital Communication Skills Training: The AHIMA Foundation developed an online communications skills training module to aid students and workers pursuing careers in health information and other fields gain critical communication skills, which are among the “people skills” articulated in the CES framework as fundamental to an employee’s success in the workplace.

The project also developed a common language to teach communication skills that can be adopted by and used in the delivery of training in other economic sectors. The module includes critical skills such as: demonstrating sensitivity and empathy; listening to and considering others’ viewpoints; recognizing and interpreting verbal and nonverbal behavior of others; and speaking clearly in precise language and in a logical, organized and coherent manner.

Embedding Common Employability Skills into Contextualized Learning: The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) developed a contextualized learning guide for embedding common employability skills into educators’ existing curricula in the energy industry.

SkillsUSA’s Professional Development Program (PDP): The PDP is closely aligned to the CES and equips students with critical, career-readiness skills through contextualized project-based learning experiences. Students learn and demonstrate foundational leadership, professional and employability skills through real-work situations that are delivered digitally and accessed from any computer, smartphone or tablet 24/7.

Elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Education has developed an online resource for information and tools to inform the instruction and assessment of employability skills. The library includes the CES as a key resource for educators, employers and policymakers.

In 2017, the National Network will focus on identifying and/or developing additional resources to help employers and educators operationalize the CES. Stay tuned and get involved!