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Employability Skills: A Hot Topic in the World of CTE

Three thousand five hundred energized Career and Technical Education professionals descended upon New Orleans in late November for ACTE’s CareerTech Vision 2015 conference. Buoyed by nice weather and the opportunity to learn from their peers, conference attendees were a highly engaged audience. They had a chance to hear from a variety of speakers during sessions, including: Mentoring and Retaining Quality CTE teachers, Recruiting Business Partners for Your CTE Program, Digital Badges 101, and State CTE Policy: New Trends and Their Impact on Your Program. In addition, multiple sessions were offered on the importance of employability skills to CTE students and their future job prospects. In fact, the program book listed at least 18 sessions that features employability skills, soft skills, or the skills gap in their titles and descriptions. Furthermore, multiple vendors highlighted how their products could improve the teaching and/or evaluation of soft skills to students and teachers.

The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education was represented with several sessions related to employability skills and other departmental programs, including the session “OCTAE Presents: The Employability Skills Framework.” During this hour-long session, OCTAE’s Nancy Brooks and I detailed the development of the framework and the importance of employability skills for the incoming workforce. We also highlighted key features of the website.

The comments of session attendees reinforced the importance of employability skills and the relevance of this project. In fact, the need for employability skills was not debated in this group of instructors and administrators, as they acknowledged that nearly every employer they speak with shares their disappointment and annoyance with not being able to hire young people with these skills. One participant commented, with a sense of frustration, that if he were allowed to grade for these skills, student performance would improve. But he did not know of any recognized assessments that his district would allow. Several attendees lamented the paucity of best practice examples that could be used to improve teaching in this area. There was also a sense of frustration over the sense that schools were the only entity responsible for imparting these skills to students. However, there was widespread recognition that these skills are critical for an individual’s long-term success in the employment marketplace.

These comments, and others heard in the halls and other sessions, reflect the overwhelming understanding that employability skills (also known as soft skills, workforce-readiness skills, deeper learning, and executive-function skills) are front and center in educators’ minds. The increasing emphasis on work-based learning, internships, etc., indicates that the field is moving toward recognizing that employability skills may be just as important to long-term career success as technical skills.

The work reported herein by JFF was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, award number EDVAE15R0034, from 25 September 2015 – 24 September 2016. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education or the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.