SCANS: How does it measure up in 1994?

What Work Requires of Schools -A SCANS Report for America 2000, commonly known as "SCANS," is fast approaching its fourth birthday. Is this workforce-related piece showing excessive wear and tear? Is it a dated document, or is it a relevant skills report for educators examining curriculum content? A recent literature review focusing on the plethora of recent national studies/reports documenting desired student skills and outcomes suggests that the SCANS report is still considered a seminal report in workforce preparation circles.

As a prominent national skills report, SCANS will form the basis of this article. First, we will take a brief internal look at the SCANS components. Second, we'll highlight an external review determining how the SCANS report "measures up" with other national skill studies. Finally, we'll include some suggestions about using the SCANS in curriculum review efforts.

History

Published and released in June 1991, the SCANS Report's skills and competencies were identified by the Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. The national commission deemed the skills a necessary requirement of high school graduates or persons entering the workforce, and especially those expecting to become successful members of that workforce. As such, the report places particular emphasis not only on identified skills, but on acceptable levels of proficiency, proficiency assessment, and strategies employers and educators must consider in order for students to have access to and meaningful experience with the identified skills. The NCPQVE National Task Force recommended using SCANS as a tool to identify applicable school to work transition skills which could serve as a basis for defining quality instructional products.

Components

The SCANS Report is divided into two categories: Foundation Skills and Competencies. Category One, Foundation Skills, consists of three components:

Basic Skills: includes reading, writing, arithmetic/mathematics, listening, and speaking;

Thinking Skills: encompasses creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, seeing things in the mind's eye, knowing how to learn, and reasoning;

Personal Qualities: frames skills concerning responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self- management, and integrity/honesty.

Category Two, known as the SCANS Competencies, is composed of five components:

Resources: wisely uses time, money, materials and facilities, and human resources;

Interpersonal skills: includes team member participation, teaching others, exercising leadership, negotiating, and working with diversity;

Information: consists of acquiring and evaluating information, organizing and maintaining information, interpreting and communicating information, and using computers to process information;

Systems: encompasses understanding systems (e.g., complex inter-relationships), monitoring and correcting performance, and improving and designing systems;

Technology: stresses selecting appropriate technology for a task, applying technology, and maintaining and troubleshooting technology.

Generally, the SCANS skills are educationally, personally, and occupationally related, focusing on education of the whole person. The SCANS also offers comprehensive and more precise definitions, compared with other national workforce/skill studies. However, SCANS and its counterparts are not without their limitations. First, a closer review of SCANS points to a void of skills and competencies which suggest a basic knowledge of work, career development, and career awareness and mobility. Second, as Stasz suggests, "the relationship between skills and individual performance and productivity...is not always clear. . . The assessment [validation] of skill needs was made by employers without input from incumbent workers [employees] - many studies suggest that employer views of skill requirements may or may not match skills actually used on the job" (Ibid).

With these caveats in mind, the SCANS Report can still be used (and often is used) by curriculum developers as a device to measure and design skill-related content. In practice, many curriculum developers have done just that: included SCANS skills and competencies within their instructional materials and curricula.

Comparison

As part of a 1993 NCPQVE development activity, SCANS was contrasted to eight national skill reports developed by national governmental agencies or appointed commissions, that were published between 1988 to 1992. Contrasting or "measuring" SCANS with other studies/reports highlighted these findings:

SCANS Foundation Skills (i.e., basic skills) are either explicitly mentioned or implied in all eight studies.

The basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic were explicitly noted in six of the eight reports. Speaking and listening were referred to with even less frequency. While SCANS posits a need for thinking skills, the majority of the other national studies made less reference to or demand for these skills. Specifically, the desirable and related skills of creative thinking, problem solving, and knowing how to learn were mentioned by only three of the eight studies.

Paralleling this finding, the personal quality skills of SCANS were explicitly mentioned in only three studies, and implied in a total of five studies. Self-esteem, sociability, and self-management were the personal quality skills consistently cited by those five studies.

Overall, the national studies make regular reference to the basic skills as defined by SCANS; however, explicit mention to specific foundational skills occurs much less frequently. From this general observation, national workforce studies, when contrasted with SCANS, seemingly concentrate their skill identification on traditional basic skills, while SCANS attempts to recognize both cognitive and affective domains and the skills that develop those domains. Studies and reports which attempt to be broadly conclusive more clearly reflect the "whole person concept" often espoused by education, business, and industry.

The eight national studies generally exclude the majority of SCANS Competencies.

The five competency components of SCANS-- Resources, Interpersonal, Information, Systems, and Technology-- are viewed by SCANS as enablers spanning the "chasm between school and the workplace" (SCANS Report, pg. 15). These "enablers" are either implied or explicitly mentioned only infrequently, or omitted altogether, by all eight national studies we reviewed. If mentioned at all, the enablers were associated with interpersonal competencies.

This fact leads us to question the intent of national workforce skills studies in the area of general occupational skills. SCANS emphasizes that competencies are "needed in workplaces dedicated to excellence, [and] they are the hallmarks of today's expert worker" (SCANS Report, p. 16). If productive workers must be able to use the five competency components in order to be effective, why are these types of competencies virtually excluded from other national workforce studies? Is this exclusion perhaps based upon the reviewed studies' limited focus, encompassing only what are perceived as "basic skills," or skills in isolation from their application?

The SCANS Skills and Competencies present a relatively complete framework in which educators can cross-reference their curriculum's skills and competencies to the skills and competencies demanded by SCANS--and theoretically, by the workplace. When integrated with a regular curriculum evaluation process, the SCANS provides a sound foundation for developing, adapting, or revising curriculum for successful programs.

Notes:

* Additional information and materials on the SCANS Report can be obtained through the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Secretary's Commission On Achieving Necessary Skills, 200 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C . 20210.

* The eight national studies reviewed were: 1) Workplace Basics, 1988; 2) Workforce 2000, 1988; 3) Building a Quality Workforce, 1988; 4) America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages, 1990; 5) America 2000, 1991; 6) Education Counts, 1991; 7) America and the Economy, 1991; and 8) National Education Goals, 1991.

Table of Contents | Next Article | Previous Article