A Common Framework for Employability Skills


At a time when competition for jobs is at an all-time high, developing general employability skills are more important than ever. Regardless of sector or skill level, the ability to effectively communicate, problem-solve, and work on a team are the characteristics that many employers look for in quality job candidates.

On May 22, 2014, the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) hosted a Webinar, “OCTAE Presents a Common Framework for Employability Skills” in order to unveil The Employability Skills Framework. The framework is an online collection of tools and resources designed to share strategies for integrating core employability skills into high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at both the state and federal level. Laura Rasmussen Foster, Program Director of Adult Education Studies at RTI International, moderated the event.

To begin the webinar, several speakers from the state and corporate sectors were invited to provide context, explain why employability skills are important, and share key takeaways from the framework and its future role in career development training.

Takeaways and the Important “Soft Skills”

Kimberly Green, Executive Director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, explained that incorporating employability skills into career training was an emerging and clear priority at the state level. During an analysis of state secondary and post-secondary CTE standards, it was revealed that many states had already adopted a standard that would equate to some sort of employability skill.

However, Green mentioned there will be some difficulty in figuring out how to make systems, states, and schools accountable for equipping all students with high-quality employability skills. Specifically defining, measuring, and assessing these skills will be a challenge, making the Employability Skills Framework a very useful tool for states and local communities as the work continues to achieve alignment across the range of stakeholders.

Grace Suh, Senior Program Manager of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, provided an employer’s perspective. “At IBM, to be successful, our employees need a set of comprehensive skills that include the highest technical, business, and employability skills. Those employability skills are built into all of the essential job functions,” said Suh. Suh added that it was important for employees at IBM to have a good overall command of a range of skills such as thinking critically, teamwork, and adaptability.

The Framework

The framework’s goal is to serve as a one-stop resource for information on employability skills for instructors, employers, and students. The interactive skills framework displays an overlapping breakdown of employability skills. These are categorized into applied knowledge, effective relationships, and workplace skills, and each category in turn has its own sub-category, such as interpersonal skills or resources management.

The site also features landing pages specific to educators, employers, and policymakers, which can act as entry points to employability skills information and resources, depending on the user’s area of interest. Other features of the framework include:

  • A virtual “crosswalk” that visually outlines areas of overlap between academic, technical, and employability skills
  • Criteria and tools for creating assessment worksheets
  • Creative examples of employability skills instruction

Putting the Idea into Practice

As for practical applications, employability skills are being incorporated into large-scale, federal competency models. Lauren Fairley, Workforce Analyst at the U.S. Department of Labor, detailed how their Employment and Training Administration (ETA) integrated elements of the framework into their Industry Competency Models by developing three foundational tiers (personal effectiveness, academic, and workplace competencies), based on the categories of the skills crosswalk regarding OCTAE’s framework. These competency models act as the foundation for technical skills and competencies that are considered vital to key sectors and industries of the U.S. economy.

Kathy Mannes, Senior Vice President for Workforce and Economic Development at the American Association of Community Colleges, provided a perspective from higher education and addressed the critical need for tools like OCTAE’s framework: “We look forward to using the site and the framework to deepen our conversations with employers, because they’re the ones who are going to drive the need and the success in preparing students with these skills.” Mannes also noted that it is important to “close the American skills gap” by focusing career training on practical skills and knowledge for a global economy. “I don’t think we can emphasize enough the need to link with employers as part of this effort.”

George Knowles is the Web Communications Associate with the American Youth Policy Forum.

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