Friday, October 9, 2015

Employability Skills Framework

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
There are a growing number of tools to guide the design and improvement of youth programs. These come in the form of frameworks, program quality measurement tools, self-assessment or reflection surveys. Some are general in nature and some are very content-specific.

If program leaders try to use all of these tools, it can be a bit overwhelming and probably not useful. It is important that programs begin by taking a look inside and answering the question, “What are we about?” and “What needs do youth have and which do we think we should focus on through our program offerings?”. Then, program leaders can select the most appropriate framework, quality assessment tool, or self-reflection survey. 

By “framework”, we are referring to a conceptual structure intended to serve as a support or guide for the design and implementation of a youth program. There are frameworks for youth development, for young adult success, employability skills, character building, social emotional learning, and more. 

RTI International (RTI), one of the world’s leading independent, nonprofit research and development organization, developed an Employability Skills Framework for the U.S. Department of Education. This framework names the skills that employers are looking for and divides this into three categories, each with a subset of skills. They are: 

Effective Relationships

  • Interpersonal Skills (understands teamwork and works with others, responds to customer needs, exercises leadership, negotiates to resolve conflicts, respects individual differences)
  • Personal Qualities (demonstrates responsibility and self discipline, adapts and shows flexibility, works independently, demonstrates a willingness to learn, demonstrates integrity and professionalism, takes initiative, displays positive attitude and sense of self-worth, takes responsibility for professional growth)

Workplace Skills

  • Technology Use (understands and uses technology)
  • Systems Thinking (understands and uses systems, monitors and improves systems)
  • Communication Skills (communicates verbally, listens actively, comprehends written material, conveys information in writing, observes carefully)
  • Information Use (locates, organizes, uses, analyzes, and communicates information)
  • Resource Management (Manages time, money, materials, and personnel)

Applied Knowledge

  • Critical Thinking Skills (thinks critically, thinks creatively, makes sound decisions, solves problems, reasons, and plans and organizes)
  • Applied Academic Skills (uses reading and writing skills, uses mathematical strategies and procedures, uses scientific principles and procedures)

Employability Skills Framework
This framework serves as a valuable tool for programs that wish to prepare young people for success in work and career. When examining this framework, one can appreciate how it overlaps with 21st century learning skills and character building/social emotional skills, and broader frameworks for youth development.

Laura Rasmussen Foster, Program Director of Adult Education Studies at RTI International, led the development of this framework. She will speak about it at our upcoming How Kids Learn V Conference in Berkeley. Below, she answers a few questions we had about the framework.  

Q: Can you briefly say how and why this framework was developed? 

A: It was developed by RTI International for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. 

The goal in creating the framework was to look across existing sets of employability skill standards and assessments and identify areas of overlap that would begin to unify this existing work in a common framework. We found right away that there are so many different terms used to describe employability skills and wanted to provide a common language (based on research) for both education and business to use. 

Our work was guided by a technical work group, which included representation from career technical education, adult education, and workforce training organizations. Stakeholder groups reviewed the framework and other key products as they were developed to ensure their applicability to the broad education and workforce fields. 

Q: Who was the intended audience and how do you hope this framework will be used? 

Laura Rasmussen Foster
A: The audience (educators, policy makers, and employers) is intentionally broad, as we recognize the importance of employability skills to all individuals and the need to integrate these skills into education and training programs across grade levels and content areas. Hopefully the framework can be used by these audiences in different ways to meet their specific needs. For example, teachers can review the framework skills, identify those that they already may be teaching and develop lessons for incorporating other skills. Employers can use it as a communication tool for explaining their skill needs to their education partners. Other tips for using the framework are described on audience-specific pages (see, for the educators page, for example).  

Q: Do you believe that it is useful and relevant for youth programs that happen in the out-of-school hours?

A: Yes, definitely. Employability skills are an essential component of college and career readiness, no matter where that preparation takes place. It is not just the responsibility of one career and technical education program or a single teacher to teach all of the framework skills. Instead, they can and should be integrated across educational levels and programs and reinforced in various contexts. 

Q: This framework names several concepts we see in frameworks for character building, youth development, and social emotional learning. What are your thoughts on the overlap? 

A: I’m not surprised about the overlap, as the framework builds on existing sets of skills, standards, and assessments – it was not intended as a new, separate set of skills. Hopefully the overlap helps you understand how youth programs are already addressing these skills and identify any gaps for further work! 

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