Teaching Employability Skills
Employability skills, sometimes called "essential skills," "soft skills," or "personal effectiveness competencies," are highly-valued by employers, but often lacking in new hires. To support instructors who want to better prepare students by integrating these skills into their courses, NC-NET developed modules containing instructional materials with activities, student handouts, assessment rubrics, and annotated presentation slides. The following activities can be used “as-is” or they can be tailored to fit a specific course. Suggestions for adaptation precede each activity with examples from several different subject areas/career pathways to illustrate the use of employability skills.
Many students (and their instructors) worry when they hear the word teamwork. Their experience with working in groups may have been a negative one in which team members shirked responsibility and left others to do the work. This can be remedied through careful structuring of collaborative learning assignments. Collaborative learning is essentially teamwork, the topic of this module. The skills necessary for successful teamwork are not innate; they must be taught and modeled. Instructors should not assume that students come to class equipped with these skills.
The presentation materials for this topic provide students with an overview of the behaviors expected of team members and of the normal stages of team development. Some students may be surprised to learn that conflict is an expected part of the process. Others may be unaware that they dominate discussions and interrupt when colleagues are speaking. Before beginning team assignments, instructors may wish to conduct student role-play of conflict resolution, respectful speaking and listening, or other behaviors essential to positive group dynamics.
Effective communication is essential for a motivated and productive workplace. Communication—spoken and written, on paper and in electronic form—is the lifeblood of every workplace. It is impossible to prepare workers for successful careers without preparing them to communicate effectively and successfully. In this module, while we cannot address all the years of language skills training (or lack of training) that students bring to the classroom, we can pause to emphasize the importance of this area to their overall career preparation, and highlight room for improvement. Whether their future employment includes working in quality control teams in factories, at construction sites involving multiple crafts, in laboratories staffed with multi-skilled technicians, or around conference room tables, their success will largely be tied to their abilities to communicate with their fellow workers and with management.
Integrity and professionalism are essential for a motivated and productive workplace. Whether aware of it or not, every person is evaluated continually. The image we project leads to judgments by others on our capabilities. Behaviors that are perceived as unprofessional or dishonest may ruin any opportunity to do business with a particular individual or company. In this module we will review aspects of integrity and professionalism including:
- Professional Image
- Honesty and Integrity
- Giving and Receiving Feedback (constructive criticism)
- Professional Code of Ethics
Every day we are faced with hundreds of decisions to make and problems to solve from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed. What will I wear today? What will I eat for breakfast? There has been a major accident on the freeway I take to work; should I take an alternate route? In every workplace, decision-making and problem-solving can have a major impact that affects the financial success of the enterprise.
The activities in this module ask students to think formally about how decisions are made by exploring strategies for solving problems both individually and in teams.
- In the first activity, Broken Squares, teams of students work together to solve a problem. Restrictions on how students are allowed to communicate reinforce the importance of teamwork and communication skills discussed in other modules in this series. The activity is fairly short, but if group members don’t observe and help others, it can become frustrating.
- The second activity, Making Individual Decisions, emphasizes the fact that students make decisions daily. In it, students think about ways they might make decisions and in what situations these processes would be most effective. Students also discuss the idea that refusing to make a decision actually yields a decision by default.
- The third activity, Make a Plan, describes strategies for tackling more complex problems. Students work through the planning method as a class or in small groups. Later they may address problems presented by the class or on the student handouts. Discussion of problem-solving strategies is encouraged throughout.
- The fourth activity, Seven-Step Quality Improvement Problem-Solving Model, discusses techniques used in business and industry to solve problems.
- The final activity, Tools for Preventing Problems, discusses the use of statistical tools to examine processes and identify potential problems before they become big problems. This activity contains a hands-on activity simulating a bottle-filling process. Students collect data, analyze it, and suggest changes to make their process more precise.
Initiative and dependability are the cornerstones of what is commonly referred to as the work ethic. Employers need employees who can be trusted to show up on time and complete their full shifts and who give their full effort to every task put before them. They need employees who show initiative and can act responsibly without constant supervision.
This module, like others in the series, explores characteristics that contribute to a good work ethic. It focuses specifically on time management, goal setting, taking responsibility for maintaining equipment and workspaces for safety, and learning how an organization is a system. The board game helps students recognize that every job within a business system has consequences for the organization as a whole.
The ability to manage information is essential in today’s technological workplace. Beyond the obvious exchange of emails and text messages, there is the ever-growing flow of documents, training materials, photography and videography, and data of all types (financial, medical, legal, statistical, scientific, and so forth). While physical libraries still contain vast repositories of information and reading materials in print, more and more of our knowledge and information is being handled electronically. The world’s total capacity to store information is growing exponentially, leaving behind the exabyte (1018 bytes) and moving into the zettabyte (1021 bytes).
In today’s workplace, workers in almost any career area must manage a large flow of information. This activity will equip students to process some of this information so that they will not be overwhelmed. To that end, we’ve broken this module into five categories and will consider each in turn:
- Acquiring: locating and using sources of information; assessing their validity and reliability; searching libraries and the Internet; and citing sources to avoid plagiarism and copyright infringement
- Evaluating: assessing the validity of sources and data (e.g., blogs versus scientific journals) and reliability of Internet data; considering periodicals, infomercials, advertising as potential sources; and citing sources for future research
- Organizing: dealing with large volumes of information; using spreadsheets and databases; and making a table of contents or an index
- Managing/Presenting: processing large volumes of information; avoiding data distortions (e.g., out-of-scale graphs and incorrect data subsets); and selecting and preparing charts (e.g., pie charts, line charts)
- Interpreting: using basic statistics to analyze and graph data; understanding linear vs. logarithmic scales; and making historical comparisons
Adaptability and lifelong learning are essential for a motivated and productive workplace. Workers must continue to learn to maintain skills, adapt to new equipment and processes, and acquire new skills to be able to become “promotable.” Learning new skills and being cross-trained in other areas helps to prevent burnout on the job and also increases the employee’s worth both within the company and if the employee seeks employment elsewhere.
In this module students are exposed to activities that help them see the value of lifelong learning and the ability to adapt to new processes, management styles, equipment, and so forth. Activities include:
- Job exploration and the creation of career genograms
- Obtaining and maintaining credentials and the benefits of belonging to professional organizations
- Preparing for career transitions
- Learning from hobbies and other informal venues
- Adapting in video games as an object lesson on adapting in the workplace
- Managing stress both on the job and in personal life
Successful businesses all began with someone's idea. In the world of electronics, for example, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were willing to risk everything to promote ideas that flourished, proven by the fact that we all have Microsoft and Apple products in our workplaces, schools, homes, pockets, and purses. Similarly, Sam Walton developed innovative ideas in product distribution warehouses and inventory management to create WalMart, the largest retail chain in the world. Many more examples could be offered, but the point to make with students is that it all starts with an idea and the courage to take whatever risks are necessary to bring the idea to fruition. Some of your students may have what it takes to turn an idea into a real business venture. One of them might even be the next Sam Walton.
In this module's activities, students will discover factors that have contributed to the success of new entrepreneurs, including the process of converting an idea into a plan (specifically, a “business plan”); the importance of family, friends, and business associates in forming a network; and the need for succinctly telling people about your business ideas, in other words, advertising.