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How to develop industry-relevant core skills in education and vocational training

15 Jun 2022
Jane Rexworthy, Executive Director, People 1st International

The world of work has faced significant disruption and challenges over the past two years. Technological, environmental and demographic changes, coupled with globalisation and a worldwide pandemic have affected the way we work, how we develop our careers and cultivate our skills.

Businesses and industries have evolved and opportunities have emerged. New and changing job roles and skills needs have intensified the level of importance placed on core skills. Critical to helping people prosper, these skills are vital in today’s ever evolving job market.

Embedding industry-relevant core skills training in activities is an important theme for the UK aid-funded Skills for Prosperity (S4P) programme, which has an overall ambition to accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Whether they are taught as standalone subjects or integrated into the teaching of technical skills, fully embedding core skills into training has multiple benefits. It develops learners to be socially and culturally ready for work and for life, so they are not just technically able, but are rounded people. It also enables them to apply soft skills in practice, in a relevant setting and with context, supporting their transition to the workplace. Finally, it builds students’ confidence with behaviours that allow them to function effectively because they have practiced these skills in classroom.

Approaches to developing core skills

What approaches can be taken to develop core skills in education and vocational training?

Projects across the S4P network offer some great insight into the different ways that core skills can be developed:

S4P Mexico — Passport to Success, a life skill curriculum: The International Youth Foundation (IYF) designed the Passport to Success (PTS), a life skill curriculum that equips young people with a range of core skills that will help them stay in school and acquire the education, professional skills, employment readiness and confidence they need to succeed in life and in the workplace.

The PTS curriculum contains over 80 modules, including 30 core lessons focused on personal development, problem solving, healthy lifestyles, workplace success, entrepreneurship/skills for professional growth and service learning (whereby students learn theories in the classroom and apply them in practice through voluntary work in the community). As a standalone programme for core skills, this is a fantastic example of how core skills can be taught without changing the curriculum of the technical subject.

IYF’s Like Skills Framework. Source: IYF, Passport to Success website

S4P South Africa — Closing the gap on work readiness: As a youth employment accelerator, not-for-profit social enterprise Harambee leads on a “Close the gap” project aimed at skilling marginalised young people for income-earning opportunities. It consists of a three-month skills programme run at a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution, coupled with six-months of work experience, helping to embed the core and technical skills. Harambee also offers a full apprenticeship programme that starts with a “leadership base camp” consisting of an eight-week module, where four weeks are spent in a training camp environment. This intensive approach has better equipped participants with work-ready skills as they enter their apprenticeship.

Core skills embedded in apprenticeships: : In several of the S4P projects including Nigeria, apprenticeships are a key outcome. Successful apprenticeship models present an opportunity to respond to the needs of employers. Explicitly outlining required behaviours alongside the skills and knowledge requirements enables an apprentice to develop core skills whilst learning technical skills on the job.

Key considerations

Using these examples and wider insights from S4P experts, key considerations need to be made when developing industry relevant core skills in education and vocational training:

1. Recognise the importance of core skills as work skills. Employers expect young people leaving education to be work ready. To effectively embed core skills with contextual sector relevance, teachers and trainers need a solid understanding of the expectations of the workplace and exposure to work and an industry environment.

2. Consider how feasible it is to make changes to the existing curriculum. In environments where this is possible, lesson plans, assessment approaches and teaching resources will need to be rewritten to support a more project-based approach. In the case where the curriculum cannot be changed, taking a programme and adding it to the curriculum as additional modules and contextualising it to the sector is an alternative way of embedding core skills into training.

3. Acknowledge that the delivery style needs to change. Giving students the opportunity to build their core skills in the classroom means a move away from lecture style delivery and a move toward group-based, interactive activities. These allow the student to take the lead on learning, with guidance from the teacher. To enable this or other forms of delivery, teachers or trainers themselves are likely to need training or support to transition to alternative forms of delivery.

For more detailed insights into approaches to embedding industry-relevant core skills into training activities read the Skills for Prosperity thematic review “Approaches to developing core skills in education and vocational training”.

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