Putting Employability Skills in Context for Students
May 01, 2018Sam Stebbins
Employability skills (also known as “soft skills”) are invaluable for students as they move into their careers. No matter the specific job description, all employers need workers with strong skills in areas such as communication, teamwork, and punctuality. Employability skills are necessary for students in any job or classroom.
With this in mind, Northview High School developed an initiative called MiGPS last year. “The whole concept of a GPS is to help people identify the route they’re going to take,” says principal Mark Thomas. “We’re not going to get kids career ready by the end of high school, but we can get them career aware and career prepared.” This initiative prioritizes employability skills in the classroom and contextualizes the lessons students may not otherwise be cognizant of. “We’ve decided to see how we can make career awareness and career preparation more inter-disciplinary with academic instruction and learning,” explains Thomas.
Teaching Students About Themselves
Rather than traditional career aptitude tests, MiGPS allows students to complete personality profiles. “This gives an understanding of how you go about school or work or relationships because of your natural tendencies” explains Thomas. By knowing themselves well, students can choose careers that they are best suited for and overcome any weaknesses. For example, an introverted person may choose a career that allows them to work independently but remember that they may have to push themselves to collaborate and reach out to others when necessary. “We want our kids to learn more about who they are, including their tendencies, interests, and values, and then learn how their education can expand that.”
Similarly, understanding who they are and which employability skills they possess is a powerful tool for students as they move into their first job interviews. “When you’re early in your career, the oxymoron is ‘how can I gain experience if you don’t give me experience,’” says Thomas. However, he explains that students can build a resume based on the experiences and skills they’ve learned in school or community settings. Then, students can confidently communicate to employers about which skills they possess, despite lacking work experience.
Relevant Lessons in Every Classroom
Another benefit of focusing on employability skills is that every teacher and classroom can provide relevant and important lessons. “Great teachers, coaches, or employers don’t just teach content, they teach behaviors,” explains Thomas. “And, if you have good behaviors, you’re going to have an opportunity to get hired in a lot of different jobs, but you’ll also have an opportunity to work on a skill set.” These good behaviors are learned in every classroom, making each class crucial to every student. For example, a student may not end up using algebra in their future career, they can gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills in their algebra class. Similarly, a student who struggles with writing will learn grit and perseverance in an English class by completing assignments that challenge them.
Thomas notes that contextualizing these employability skills lessons within existing curriculum adds value that may not be reflected in traditional letter grading. “Not everyone starts at the same starting line,” Thomas explains. He says that when looking at test score data, “whether you live in an urban district or rural district, or your socioeconomic background, that may change what you score on a test.” However, employability skills are an area that Thomas says “doesn’t discriminate based on your ZIP code.” This creates a competitive edge for students who are disadvantaged. While these students may earn lower grades on the content of their courses for a variety of reasons, they are able to articulate the employability skills they gained in the classroom.
Finding Success After High School
Ultimately, MiGPS gives students tools to succeed after earning their diplomas. Northview is developing a curriculum on career preparation and awareness that includes tasks such as mock interviewing and resume writing. Currently, Northview fosters career awareness by sharing the Hot Jobs list and Talent 2025’s Talent Demand report with students, families, and teachers to ensure they have an understanding of which jobs they may choose to pursue.
Additionally, students at Northview are graded on their employability skills through both self-assessment and teacher feedback. These scores are included in a digital transcript, which students can share with employers or colleges. This focus began nearly eight years ago after Thomas heard local employers speak to a need for employability skills and assessment among young students.
Students have used these employability skills transcripts to communicate their competencies in job interviews and even sway college admissions in their favor. “I’ve had students who have come back [after graduating] who have said ‘Mr. Thomas, I talked about employability skills in a job interview and I was hired on the spot,’” says Thomas. “We’ve also had kids share employability skills transcripts in the college admissions process. Even if their GPA wasn’t where they wanted it to be, the college admissions would take note of their persistence and grit and say ‘we’re willing to take a chance on you.’”