|National Center for Research in Vocational Education
University of California, Berkeley
BY BETH GIDDENS AND CATHY STASZ
Why Should Educators Worry About Workplace Skills?
Changes in work and the workplace are transforming the kinds of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for successful work performance. Evidence of the need for new skills comes from many sources. For example, The National Employer Survey conducted by the National Center for Educational Quality of the Workforce indicates that employers are concerned that employees have "soft" skills in addition to technical knowledge and basic competencies. In addition, a growing body of empirical research on the nature of work suggests that employers need nimble-minded workers to a larger extent than ever before. They seek intelligent employees who can master the technical demands of their jobs, work without constant supervision, adapt to new technologies, teach themselves how to use sophisticated equipment, and have the right attitudes and dispositions toward work. Being book smart is rarely sufficient. Employers and workers together note that "generic" skills, such as problem solving, communication, and the ability to work in teams are more important than ever.
If we consider that a majority of the labor market--three-fifths in 1992--does not have a baccalaureate degree, then it becomes clear that high schools, community colleges, and on-the-job training programs must play a key role in preparing the nation's workforce.
In recognition of the demand for a more comprehensive skills, policymakers and others have begun to develop new ways of defining and providing instruction in essential skills. These new approaches retain traditional academic high school courses but also include generic skills and job-specific vocational skills. In 1990, a commission assembled by the U. S. Secretary of Labor introduced a new skills framework. These SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) skills are organized in a two-part framework: "foundation skills," including the basic skills of reading, writing, arithmetic and mathematics; and workplace "competencies." In addition, the federal government is currently supporting the development of skill standards in 22 industries.
A Skills Glossary
Policymakers, researchers and practitioners have begun to use a number of terms to denote new skills--foundation skills, workplace skills, generic skills, workplace attitudes and dispositions. Here is a glossary of some of the more important skill terms.
Work Attitudes and Dispositions
Communities of Practice
Situative View of Skills