Connections: The Newsletter of the National Career Pathways Network

Volume 31, No. 1
Employability Skills

Voices from the Field: Educators and Employers Share Perspectives on the Pandemic’s Impact on Employability Skills Instruction

What do your employer partners say about their needs for employability skills among applicants/new hires? Are they asking for different employability skills than they did a year ago?

  • “As most of the world has shifted to a greater reliance on virtual or contactless encounters, our local employer partners are now, more than ever before, looking for applicants/new hires who are nimble and able to perform well in virtual environments with good communication and technology skills.

    We were recently awarded a state grant for entrepreneurship education and training. Two of the three parts of the grant are focused directly on employability skills, the foundation of being a good entrepreneur.”

    Erik Christensen, South Florida College

  • “The employers I have been in contact with are still saying punctuality is an ongoing issue. One employer said, ‘If I can get them there [to work], I have won half my battle.’”

    Star Jackson, James Sprunt Community College

  • “Employers have asked us to increase the amount of time we spend teaching students basic concepts about telehealth and incorporate ‘mock’ activities into our internships that prepare students to assist with ensuring practices are properly reimbursed for telehealth visits.”

    Brandy Ziesemer, Lake-Sumter State College

How have evolving course delivery formats changed employability skills instruction in recent months?

  • “The pandemic has not slowed down our employability skills instruction, just changed the format. It helped that our employability skills curriculum has been developed in two formats—face-to-face and online. We still prefer face-to-face instruction and hope to return to that soon.”

    Erik Christensen, South Florida College

  • “We have evolved course delivery to a virtual format with both synchronous and asynchronous methods of delivery. The challenge is the flexibility students have to complete assignments and tasks. Students are anticipating the spontaneity they expect in a classroom setting for feedback and gaining clarity on assignment expectations. Email, voicemail, and text messages from students have increased, requiring more clear boundaries on response times and feedback from educators. The classroom looks a lot different now. We are now seeing our students’ worlds as two-dimensional…this reduces the peripheral context of conversations and the nuances of body language.

    I’ve created opportunities for my (animal sciences) students to come to campus for experiential learning. These opportunities can be as an individual or in small groups. Appropriate PPE as it applies to the farm and situation are emphasized and utilized. A great example is artificial insemination of a cow or sow. A student can read about, see pictures of, and watch videos of the process. However, the student does not develop the tactile skills and practical application until they work with an animal model or live animal, the equipment, and properly carry out the procedures. The lessons learned are invaluable to the student.”

    Star Jackson, James Sprunt Community College

  • “Typically, a graduate of our health information-related certificates and degree gain at least 50 hours of time in a medical office or facility. Starting in the spring, our students were not allowed to go onsite to any of the providers with which we have affiliation agreements. I had to come up with case studies and virtual lab experiences to replace the site time. We worked with our local medical society to create an e-summit for practice managers on all aspects of telehealth (implementation, preparing staff and patients to have good experiences, complying with security rules, proper documentation, and correct coding and billing). We had three teams of students each create a poster and a video clip presenting important telehealth considerations. Those three sets of videos with posters (pdf) were sent out via survey monkey to all practices in the medical society so the office managers could rank the three presentations. Then, the students and the managers attended a Zoom presentation by three professionals who tied the student topics together with a ‘how-to’ approach.”

    Brandy Ziesemer, Lake-Sumter State College

The way work is performed (how and where) has changed significantly since the onset of the pandemic. How have changes to your work environment elevated the importance of employability/soft skills for your employees?

  • “We must rely more on virtual face-to-face rather than just email. We can’t walk across the office to discuss issues or follow-up, and email doesn’t always get us what we want or expect. Messages and intent can get missed in an email. We have had to have many more virtual meetings with our staff and business partners to drive accountability and results.”

    Shawn Meck, Progress Rail

If you were offering advice to faculty, what employability skills would you suggest they emphasize?

  • Shawn Meck of Progress Rail comments: “Team structure and development, team forming model, and the importance of diversity within a team for it to be effective. Everyone on a team has their own value that makes the team high performing. Collaborative problem-solving exercises. Clear and concise communication, including first and foremost listening. Constraint management. With any issue or continuous Improvement activity, make sure you are working on the constraint component of the overall process that will impact the larger process’s output. Work on the most important thing only, first.”

  • Engineers at Dan T. Moore Company say they are “always looking for teammates who are industrious, curious, passionate, well-educated and mechanically intuitive. These qualities are hard to find. As entrepreneurs, it’s important to find people with energy. The human resource function is more important than it’s been in the past.”

  • Dr. Matthew Carter of Cook Medical, a medical device manufacturer, commented in a recent podcast: “We’re interested in problem solving. Collaboration. More and more, cross-functional collaboration is so important. As companies are more global, you have team members that aren’t in the same room. They aren’t in the same building. They aren’t in the same country. So, being able to collaborate—being able to ‘message sent, message heard’—making sure those are aligned.”