What are ‘Employability Skills?’

In short, employability skills are just what they sound like. Real world skills that will help you get a job. Some students may feel like that the things they are learning are useless, that the only skills they are developing are how to efficiently work the system to get grades. Other students may lose interest all together. How does competency ed fit into this?

When looking at the definition of competency ed (Chris Sturgis and Susan Patrick, iNACOL, 2015), one of the primary ideas is that ‘competencies should include explicit, measurable, transferrable learning objectives that empower students.’ How student success is determined should be something that is clearly apparent. Not based on numbers, or the amount of a time a student has spent in a seat, but rather the actual skills they have learned. The outcomes of a student’s learning should be applicable, skills that are transferrable to the real world, employability skills.

In the words of competency ed expert and principal Brian Stack,

“When you ask employers, What are they looking for in new hires?, they don’t want people who know what happened in the war of 1812, but they want people who are going to be punctual, who can critically think and problem solve and manage their time. These are all important skills, and that fits into a competency education model as well.”

Memorization of facts is not a skill that employers are seeking. What skills are being sought after? Note this segment from an article by Education Dive that discusses changing assessment standards in education,

“The Fortune 500 Most Valued Skills were, in 2010, topped by teamwork, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, oral communication and listening skills, said Ray Pecheone, executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning & Equity (SCALE). Additionally, deeper learning competencies put forward by the Hewlett Foundation include mastering core academic content, thinking critically and solving complex problems, working collaboratively, communicating effectively, learning how to learn, and developing academic mindsets.”

‘Soft skills’ like learning how to work and get along with others, and communicate effectively, are skills that will not be replaced with technology. Are students learning these skills? Are students ‘learning how to learn’ or are they learning how to memorize what happened in the war of 1812? This isn’t to say that it’s not important for students to learn about history, know how to write an essay, or even learn good memorization techniques. But is school really preparing them to be productive workers in the 21st century?

Again, the learning outcome piece of competency ed states that “Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.” This involves high-level learning. Can student apply what they are learning to the real world, over a variety of situations? What about creation of knowledge — do they ask questions and seek to take their learning further? Can they work with other students and effectively communicate these ideas? If student performance is being assessed by meeting these competencies, not by how well they’ve memorized answers for a test, they will be well on their way to gaining employable skills.

To learn more about performance assessments, including how some schools are developing them, check out Education Dive’s article ‘Assessments will be disrupted: Is a performance approach the future of testing?,’ developed from a panel at this year’s SXSWedu conference.

Let’s build a path to close the learning gap and enrich students’ futures.