Employability Skills: Are we failing our students?

This is my 9th post for the 9x9x25 Challenge!

The article by Joe Friesen, “One in four Ontario postsecondary students lacks basic literacy, numeracy skills, studies say” posted November 27th in The Globe and Mail claims that post-secondary students have weak skills in literacy, numeracy, problem solving and critical thinking. 

The Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities (MTCU) includes 11 Essential Employability Skills (EES) that are to be taught in all college programs in Ontario. These skills include: communication, numeracy, critical thinking/problem solving, information management, interpersonal and personal skills. These skills should be embedded in the activities and assessments we do in our courses and if they aren’t, then we are failing our students.

I’ve been a part of numerous Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) meetings on-campus as part of my role as Curriculum Designer. The PACs always have glowing things to say about students’ knowledge and skills related to the program but feel that soft skills aren’t as strong as they should be. They want to see more soft skills being taught in their programs. 

However, I don’t think it is that faculty don’t want to teach these skills to their students. I think that many faculty may not know how to incorporate those skills into their courses and delivery. I know I’ve often wondered how I would ever integrate numeracy in my English courses! 

If we know that these skills are lacking through feedback from our PACs, employers, research reports, and so on, then we need to start addressing this issue or we are failing our students. The first place to start is to look reflectively at our own teaching practice and where we could implement employability skills in our delivery and assessments. 

If you don’t know where to find support for teaching and assessing employability skills, a good place to start is at your institution’s Teaching and Learning Centre. Another great resource is Durham College’s CAFE webpage resource dedicated to EES. What I’d love to see is faculty openly sharing their resources, ideas and practice surrounding the teaching of EES so we can all learn and benefit!

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