Articulating employability skills should be part of university course curriculum

Friday, May 10, 2019

To help students become employed, universities need to teach students to first recognize and then articulate their employability skills as a routine part of their courses, a new study from the University of Waterloo has found.

“We know that students need key employability skills such as communication, critical thinking, team work and problem solving.  But they also need to confidently and clearly articulate these skills to employers in a way that connects their capabilities to the job requirements,” says lead author Jill Tomasson Goodwin, professor in Communication Arts at the University of Waterloo.  “Students can achieve this ability if they regularly practice articulating their skills with – and get feedback from – experts inside the classroom.”

Researchers conducted a two-stage study involving 3,400 undergraduate students from all six faculties and years of study at Waterloo, including students in co-op and non-co-op streams. Half of the participants received instruction in one of their courses on a job interview technique called STAR (situation-task-action-result), including in-class activities and feedback from their classmates and instructors. The other participants did not receive the instruction.

In a follow-up survey six months after the course, students who received instruction as part of a course could articulate their employability skills more accurately and completely than students who didn’t receive the instruction. This finding was consistent across all years of study and academic stream (co-op or non-co-op), suggesting that professional development workshops and work experience aren’t enough to help students develop and retain these crucial skills.

“Our results demonstrate that practice – rather than years of study or co-op experiences – make students better at articulating their employability skills,” Tomasson Goodwin said. “In order to master this by the time they graduate, students need as many opportunities as possible to practice skills articulation throughout their academic career.”   

The authors note that integrating STAR instruction into courses also helps students see connections between their coursework and their employability skills, helping them to better prepare for the future of work.

“The reality is that students will be changing jobs many times in their career, and even applying for jobs in the future that currently don't exist, so the ability to identify and articulate skills in a way that resonates with employers will only become more critical in the future,” says co-author Katherine Lithgow, senior instructional developer with Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence.

The study’s co-authors include Joslin Goh (associate director of the Statistical Consulting Centre) and Stephanie Verkoeyen (then PhD candidate in the department of geography).

Can students be taught to articulate employability skills?” appeared in Education + Training.

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