Online Teaching & Technology Blog

Center for Online Learning, Research and Service @ Illinois Springfield

Category: Teaching Strategies for Employability Skills

Employability and the Liberal Arts: A Career Readiness Initiative

Employability and the Liberal Arts: A Career Readiness Initiative

Professor Katherine Brown, associate professor of communication and faculty director of the Career Readiness Initiative in the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavior and Social Sciences,  describes how she helps students connect what they are learning in the classrom to planning their next steps after college by demonstrating how others can resist the tendency to portray any concern with employability as somehow anti-intellectual, or as a rejection of the ideas and traditions of liberal arts education.

Professor Brown outlines the following points relative to her initiative:

  • acknowledge how connections between skills developed in “college readiness” activities also contribute to “career readiness” and employability;
  • success is defined by many as a “fit” between our values, skills and abilities, and the goals, needs, culture, and practices of an employer;
  • over the years employers have consistently highly ranked skills of importance that are practiced daily in classrooms and other campus learning environments – verbally communicating inside and outside the organization, working in a team structure, obtaining and processing information, and  making decisions when problem solving;
  • students are provided opportunities to practice and demonstrate soft skills and  articulate connections between what is taught and how it can benefit  non-profits or for-profit organizations hiring graduates.

New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology

New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology

The New Vision for Education project examines the role that technology can potentially play to improve education for the future.  In phase II, we investigated innovative ways to help students develop competencies* and character qualities broadly defined as social-emotional skills, which are critical components of 21st-century skill framework but not a core focus in today’s curriculum.  Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) will prepare today’s students for this evolving workplace, with consequent benefits for individuals, businesses, the economy and society as outlined in the World Economic Forum Report.

Image of Exhibit from the New Vision for Education Report on page 8. Exhibit contains competencies including critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration with character qualities that include social and cultural awareness, leadership, adaptabiity, persistence/grit, initiative, curiosity. The center of the exhibit contact the strategies to teach all of the skills.

Exhibit 3: A variety of general and targeted learning strategies foster social and emotional skills

Employability Skills Learning Objectives

Explore the two resources below to obtain employabiity skills topics and learning objective samples that can help generate ideas for complementary content for your courses.

  • Skillsoft – An eLearning resource that provides a wide range of business skills and leadership content including a catalog of courses with learning objectives, white papers, case studies, and analyst research reports.
  • Leadership Rating Scale (pg. 16) and 4 C’s Competencies (pg. 29),  The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Leadership Implementation Guide
    • Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as those that separate learners who are prepared and not prepared for
      complex life and work environments in the 21st century.
    • The 4C’s include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration and are considered essential to prepare learners for the future.

National and International Associations

Incorporate industry trends and professional development opportunities within learning activities, so learners can keep abreast of industry changes by having them compare and contrast association information, identify historical changes, or predict future trends.

  • Directory of Associations – Find over 35,000+ local, regional, national and international associations.  Search by state, category, type and size.
  • CareerOneStop – Locate national professional associations by occupation or industry served. Contact associations to find professional development opportunities, and keep current on changes in your industry.  Search by industry, occupation, or association name.

Labor, Industry, and Occupation Resources

If you want your learners to have opportunities to explore the realistic aspects of the world of work and future jobs, think about ways to incorporate labor market, industry and occupational information into your learning activities.  Below are a few resources to get you started.

  • Industries at a Glance
    • Overview
    • Workforce statistics
    • Earnings and hours
    • Fatalities, injuries and illnesses
    • Workplace trends
  • CareerOneStop, Explore Careers
    • The more you know about the job market, the more you can build career resilience.
    • Research career profiles, career videos, what’s hot, compare occupations, research industries and tools such as the salary finder.
  • Career Outlook Articles
    • Provides data and information on a variety of topics including occupations, industries, pay, benefits, and more and consists of four departments:
    • Feature articles present an in-depth look at a range of career topics.
    • You’re a what? explores unusual occupations through the work of someone in that occupation.
    • Interview with a… describes, in Q & A format, a specific worker’s career path.
    • Data on Display is a graphic presentation of data on employment and other topics.
  • Industry Profiles Report
    • Explores the future of jobs and the pace of change to the global employment landscape up until the year 2020, as anticipated by the some of the world’s largest employers.
    • Provides information about employment, skills and workforce strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
    • Details drivers of change, workforce disruption, expected time of impact on employee skills and job quality, skills forecast change management and future workforce planning barriers and strategies.
    • Emerging job family in focus, country/regional, industry gender gap (pg. 71).

Learning Activity Employability Skills Tools

Listed below are tools you might consider using to enhance student engagement to facilitate connecting course content with real-world scenarios and trending information.

  • The Informatist Online Gaming Tool with lessons incorporates aspects of a complex business environment, working with others on a business problem, dealing with competition and solving problems. check out  other business simulation games
  • Global Transformation Maps is a dynamic knowledge tool to understand the issues and forces driving transformation change across economies, industries, global issues and the World Economic Forum’s system initiatives. Tip: Select Workforce and Employment (requires creating a free account to access interactive map).
  • Review MindSumo real-world company problems and use as a guide to develop simulated learning activities.
  • Skills Profiler creates a customized list of your skills and matches them to job types that use those skills; identify skills from a current or past job and connect them to new career options for consideration.

Employment Skills List Cross-Referenced with Occupations

Do you and your learners know what employers really want?  Augment your learning activities with information about which skills, abilities, and expertise employers in various fields are seeking and how to incorporate the most relevant skills and keywords in résumés, cover letters, and interviews.

Building Successful Partnerships Between Colleges and Industry

In much of the recent research to prepare learners for the 21st Century Workforce, a common recommendation is for universities to develop meaningful partnerships with employers.  Learn about best practices from others.

  • A Toolkit for Building Successful Partnerships – The toolkit includes creating a navigator for industry partners, key characteristics of productive partnerships, practical steps for building relationships between colleges and industries.
  • Creating Industry Relationships that Work – Driven by a lack of skills and knowledge that can impede the nation’s global competitiveness, a collaboration of leaders from industry, city government, the school district, higher education and non-profit youth development organizations formed a coalition to become instrumental in education innovation.

National Network: Connecting Learning and Work

The National Network’s library of tools, guides, white papers, frameworks and other resources can provide guidance to educators and other learning providers so they will know what foundational skills to emphasize.  These products can also help employers, industry leaders, learning providers and others who seek to take action and connect learning and work in their companies, communities and beyond.   Learn more about the National Network’s innovation projects.


  • Work-and-Learn in Action Guidebook – introduces employers, educators and others to a range of options along the work-and-learn continuum to help them find an approach that works for their organization and community.
  • Common Employability Skills – a cross-industry approach to foundational skills regardless of where employees work.
  • Blueprint for Organizations to Create Standards-Based Credentials -a first step in defining the qualities that make programs valuable to consumers—employers, workers and students.
  • Attributes of the New Business-Led Work-And-Learn Models

Necessary Skills Now Project

Learn how the Necessary Skills Now teams of faculty and employers will develop a curriculum that integrates technical content and employability concepts within existing courses rather than teach stand-alone courses on employability topics in isolation from the technical content.  The project will provide opportunities to teach employability skills prioritized by industry within discipline-specific courses using authentic workplace scenarios as the context for instruction.

Project Goals:

  1. Validate broad employability skills categories; select and prepare curriculum development team members for collaboration.
  2. Using an integrated curriculum development process, develop, pilot, revise, and disseminate 12 curriculum projects (six per sector) integrating employability and technical course concepts.
  3. Provide faculty professional development resources and workshops to support implementation of integrated projects and replication of curriculum design process across other institutions and sectors.

Learn more about project deliverables, outcomes and pilot sites, or apply to become a pilot site by completing the interest form.


Employability in Higher Education: A Review of Practice and Strategies Around the World

Employability in Higher Education: A review of practice and strategies around the world is a literature review associated with the practice, ecosystems and strategies in place around the world that are used to improve the employability levels of students and graduates and ensure that their skills and knowledge are fit-for-purpose for the graduate labor market upon leaving Higher Education (HE).  The publication is divided into five sections:

  1. How are higher education institutions developing coherent employability programs’?
  2. Best practice methods of embedding employability skills into the curriculum, and the importance of pedagogy.
  3. What graduate employability skills to employers value?
  4. How can higher education institutions and employers build closer working relationships?
  5. How is impact measured?
  6. Directions.
Image of an employability skills wheel published in the UKCES 2009 report, figure 3.  the Employability wheel center circle begins with employability skills surrounded by criical factors, then key features, and lastly, the out circle consisting of areas that impact on the learner, employer and provider.

Figure 3. Employability Skills Wheel (UKCES, 2009, p.17)

Learn How Universities are Augmenting their Curriculum with Real-world, Career-specific Teachings

In a McGraw-Hill Education 2015 Workforce Readiness Survey, thirty-five percent of college students said college was effective in preparing them for a job while  61% wanted classes designed to help build career skills.  Additionally, in an IBM Institute Report, Pursuit of Relevance: How Higher Education Remains Viable in Today’s Dynamic World, only 43% across industry and academia believe higher education prepares students with necessary workforce skills.   If you’re seeking ideas for curriculum improvement, learn how other universities are augmenting their curriculum with real-world, career-specific teachings.

  • Learning to Work Working to Learn – a publication that showcases promising examples of business-higher education partnerships that embed career development throughout a student’s college experience and treat both students and employers as customers.

Employability Skills Rubrics

If you’ve been trying to identify employability skills’ rubrics, check out the resources below.

  • Association of American Colleges and Universities  VALUE Rubrics  – Consists of the following sixteen rubrics:
    • Intellectual and Practical Skills:  inquiry and analysis, critical thinking, creative thinking, written communication, oral communication, reading, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork, and problem-solving
    • Personal and Social Responsibility:  civic engagement, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning, foundations and skills for lifelong learning, global learning
    • Integrative and Applied Learning: integrative learning
  • Emerging EdTech 21st Century Assessments Rubric -By creating assignments that earn high scores on this rubric, you can provide opportunities for students to develop and master the skills that are increasingly necessary to excel in today’s increasingly digital world while demonstrating acquisition of the required outcomes in many different types of courses.  Criteria categories include:
    • choice, flexibility, writing required, inquiry-based learning, real-world connection, collaboration, digital literacy, entrepreneurial skills, and mastery learning.
  • ConnectEd Studios Rubrics Bank – You’ll need to establish a free account to access the rubrics bank.  Sample rubrics you might be interested in include teamwork, group skills, and digital communication to name a few.

Video Lessons, Lesson Plans, Articles, Media and Web Resources has over 22,000 video lessons searchable by grade level, subject, and keyword with 50,000+ additional articles relative to making college and career decisions.  Preview lesson content by previewing the partial transcript to explore potential employability skills topics complementary to your courses.  Tip: Use the keyword search feature to explore content and review disciplines other than yours for complementary content (e.g.  Effective Communication in the Workplace; Philosophy – Ethics in America etc.).

If you’re wanting to identify resources by industry sector, ConnectEd is your go-to resource providing a wealth of curriculum resources including lesson plans, student handouts, and media and web resources.

Promoting Learner Professionalism

The Leadership Development Center at York College conducted a national professionalism study, which identified key professionalism components spanning across industries and occupations.  In the 2015 report, respondents ranked seven responsible parties according to how responsible they felt each should be in developing professionalism in college graduates.  Students themselves were ranked number one and were followed by faculty ranking number two.  The report also describes the qualities of professionalism and unprofessionalism.   This list of qualities could be used for developing learner expectations for your course and allow various opportunities for practice in adopting professional attitudes and behaviors prior to graduation.  Adapt ideas from this learning activity to help your learners improve in professionalism behavior and attitudes.

Image of a bar graph ranking responsible parties for developing professionalism in college. The ranking for most responsible is students themselves, faculty, Career Development office, Parents, Employers, Other College Offices, Alumni.

Leadership Development Center, 2015 National Professionalism Study

Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College

The report, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College, details findings and recommendations that promote the kind of learning students need to meet emerging challenges in the workplace, in a diverse democracy, and in an interconnected world. The report also proposes a series of specific actions and collaborations to substantially raise the quality of student learning in college.

Image of  the Greater Expectations Report's table titled: Organizing Educational Principles from Present to the New Academy. the table is divided into three columns titled former or present, modified, present or future located in Chapter located in Chapter 5.

AAC&U Greater Expectations Report: Organizing Educational Principles from Present to the New Academy

Guidelines For Practice: Integrating Practice-based Experiences

The practice guidelines for integrating practice-based experiences were developed by Professor Stephen Billett, Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC), National Teaching Fellow.  The guidelines are intended to assist higher education faculty to make decisions about organizing and integrating student experiences in practice settings to support student development, so they will make smooth transitions to their selected occupations upon graduation. The guidelines focus on:

  1. purposes for organizing and integrating experiences;
  2. key learning outcomes;
  3. key considerations for providing practice-based experiences;
  4. different ways of providing practice experiences for students;
  5. sets of principles and practice associated with organizing those experiences within the curriculum;
  6. enriching pedagogic practices.
The report identifies and appraises curriculum and pedagogic principles and practices for integrating higher education students’ experiences across practice and university settings through three phases of activities:
  • sponsored and engaged 20 projects from a wide range of disciplines across six universities to identify principles and practices;
  • appraised the 20 projects’ principles for practice, processes and outcomes in terms of educational worth for developing the kinds of knowledge graduates need to smoothly transition into their selected occupations;
  • attempted to align particular kinds of curriculum and pedagogic practices that are associated with specific kinds of learning.

The Dialogue Forum for the ALTC National Teaching Fellowship booklet contains information pertaining to the fellowship program, project details and findings.

ACT WorkKeys Competencies

Explore the ACT WorkKeys Assessment information developed to measure foundational hard and soft skills relevant to any occupation, at any level, and across industries.  Each assessment has characteristics and skills divided into seven levels of difficulty.  Use the information to explore ideas for developing or enhancing learning activities.

Relevant Categories:

  • Graphic Literacy – Use charts, graphs and diagrams for identifying what information is being presented and understanding how to use it.
  • Workplace Documents – Be creative and incorporate readings that reflect real workplace documents.  Learners can gather information from the documents to make job-related decisions and solve problems. Sample documents can include messages, emails, letters, directions, signs, bulletins, policies, websites, contracts, and regulations.
  • Business Writing – Assess learning activities in the context of workplace writing needs.  Content needs to be clear and free of distractions such as poor grammar, misspellings, and extraneous information. Explain to learners how careless errors may lead the reader (e.g. customer, supervisor etc.) to believe other errors may exist in terms of facts, resulting in the writer (or employee) losing credibility and trustworthiness.
  • Workplace Observation – Provide opportunities for learners to observe, follow, understand, and evaluate processes, demonstrations, and other workplace procedures.
  • Fit – Help learners identify interests and values compatible with a work environment conducive for job success.  
  • Talent – Develop activities to increase awareness of a student’s attitude or behavior, that if demonstrated in the workplace, could lead to disciplinary action or termination.  Provide opportunities for growth and feedback.

Skillsoft Books (UIS Brookens Library)

Skillsoft Books  is a new database resource provided by UIS Brookens Library. Access the complete, unabridged content of more than 20,000+ online books and 40,000+ streaming videos in a fully searchable database.

TIP:  For relevant information pertaining to employability skills and industry, search the Business Skills and Government Categories.  Select current trending workplace articles that can be used to demonstrate real-world application and connects  course concepts with skills.  Login now to explore Skillsoft Books (requires UIS Netid and password).

Contextual Teaching and Learning Theory

Contextual teaching and learning theory emphasizes the relationship of course content to real-life situations by teaching abstract subject matter within the context of how it’s applied in the workplace and everyday life.  Consider use this teaching approach that incorporates the five essential strategies of REACT:

  • Relating: Learn in the context of life experience.
  • Experiencing: Learn in the context of exploration, discovery, and invention.
  • Applying: Apply concepts and information in a useful context such as projects related to a possible career, or in an unfamiliar location such as the workplace.
  • Cooperating: Cooperate in the context of sharing, responding and communicating with other learners.
  • Transferring: Learn in the context of existing knowledge, or transferring uses and builds upon what the learner already knows.

Are you teaching contextually?  Take the Center for Occupational Research and Development’s self-test to find out.  Additional supplemental resources for contextual teaching include the toolkit which includes lesson design elements and templates, and a table comparison between a traditional and contextual course environment.

P21 – 21st Century Student Outcomes

The 21st century student outcomes are the skills, knowledge and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21st century.  The P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning was developed with input from teachers, education experts, and business leaders to define and illustrate the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in work, life and citizenship, as well as the support systems necessary for 21st century learning outcomes.

The theme and skill categories below have corresponding  Student Outcomes.   Determine which outcomes you have already included in your courses, or use as a reference to consider adding to your course.

21st Century Interdisciplinary Themes:

  • Global awareness
  • Financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy
  • Civic literacy
  • Health literacy
  • Environmental literacy

 Learning and Innovation Skills:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills:

  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • ICT Literacy

Life and Career Skills:

  • Flexibility & Adaptability
  • Initiative & Self Direction
  • Social & Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity & Accountability
  • Leadership & Responsibility


OpenLearn provides educational resources that can be filtered by skills, subjects, and free courses. Resource type includes articles, activities, courses, eBooks, Audios, Videos, TV & Radio and Posters & Booklets.

Skills for Work Categories:

  • Money and Finance
  • Project Planning
  • Digital
  • Communication
  • Career
  • Leadership and Management

Skills for Study Categories:

  • Reading and Finding Information
  • Writing and English
  • Maths and Data
  • Digital and Online
  • Organizational Skills
  • Critical and Analytical

Skills Commons

Explore the Skills Commons free and open digital library of workforce training resources and browse resources by industry, credentials and material type.  Examples of material type categories include:

  • online course
  • online course module
  • hybrid/blended course
  • open textbook
  • simulation

Use the Interactive Industry Wheel (accessible version) to locate materials that are:

  • developed in partnership with local industries
  • reviewed by subject matter experts
  • focused on skills businesses need today
Image of Interactive Industry Wheel for locating resources that are free and open to use.

Interactive Industry Wheel, Skills Commons


NC-NET Employability Skills Resource Toolkit

The North Carolina Network for Excellence in Teaching developed an Employability Skills Resource Toolkit comprised of eight modules for faculty to use for integrating employability skills across the curriculum.  Use the modules to introduce a topic or adapt for course-specific content. Each module contains instructional materials with course lessons and learning objectives, questions for reflection and discussion, student handouts, assessment rubrics, facilitator notes and annotated presentation slides.

Module Topics:

  1. Interpersonal Skills and Teamwork
  2. Communications
  3. Integrity and Professionalism
  4. Problem Solving and Decision Making
  5. Initiative and Dependability
  6. Information Processing
  7. Adaptability and Lifelong Learning
  8. Entrepreneurship