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New Center on Education Policy Report Connects Deeper Learning to Workforce Success

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June 14, 2017 12:37 pm


Having a postsecondary degree or training increasingly is becoming a prerequisite for most jobs. Yet while U.S. students are graduating from high school and completing college at the highest rates in decades, employers say many prospective employees still lack essential skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and communication. Furthermore, these skills—along with the ability to collaborate, direct one’s learning, and persevere in the face of challenge—are especially crucial in fast-growing and emerging occupations, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

The report, Building Competencies for Careers, connects the skills employers demand with the competencies students develop through deeper learning. Deeper learning refers to the delivery of rich core content to students in ways that allow them to learn and apply what they have learned. It focuses on six competencies which, according to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, represent the skills and knowledge that students must possess to succeed in an increasingly complex world:

  1. know and master core academic content
  2. think critically and solve complex problems
  3. work collaboratively
  4. communicate effectively
  5. be self-directed and able to incorporate feedback
  6. develop the academic mindsets necessary for learning

For the CEP report, researchers consulted survey data from the U.S. Department of Labor about the areas of knowledge, skills, abilities, and workstyles (KSAWs) associated with 301 diverse occupations, ranging from amusement and recreation workers to locomotive engineers, medical secretaries, clinical psychologists, and veterinarians. They aligned each KSAW identified with one of the six deeper learning competencies outlined above. Then the researchers analyzed the KSAWs and noted the ones job holders and occupational experts considered “important” for different job areas. Finally, they cross-referenced these “important” KSAWs with the deeper learning competencies the researchers had assigned to them to determine which competencies are most relevant to individual occupations and job categories.

“Despite widespread agreement that students need both college preparation and career readiness, boundaries between these goals still exist among educators, policymakers, and the public, and views differ about how best to balance academic preparation with the kind of experiences that build career skills and abilities,” the report says. “Deeper learning aims to give students both, emphasizing the need for students to gain knowledge and understanding but also the ability to apply that knowledge broadly and effectively.”

All 301 occupations studied require at least one deeper learning competency, according to the report. However, the percentage of “important” KSAWs linked to deeper learning competencies is greater among “Bright Outlook” occupations—those occupations that are expected to grow rapidly, have large numbers of job openings, or are new or emerging, the report says. Deeper learning competencies also are more important for occupations that require more education, experience, and training, the report adds.

Across all job types, “develop academic mindsets,” which refers to an individual’s ability to “develop attitudes and beliefs that lead to perseverance and productive academic behaviors,” ranked as the most important competency, the report says. This competency was followed by (in descending order of importance) “learn how to learn,” “communicate effectively,” “think critically and solve complex problems,” and “work collaboratively.”

The competency “master core academic content” ranked the lowest, the report says. Although this competency had the greatest number of KSAWs linked to it, survey respondents identified only 20 percent of those KSAWs as “important” to their work. This finding does not mean that core academic content is unimportant to workforce success, though, the report cautions. But rather “that many of the core academic content areas are too specific to be important for the majority of sampled occupations [emphasis added],” the report explains. But survey respondents did rank general content areas—such as knowledge of English language, computers and electronics, and mathematics—as “important” to most occupations, as the graph from the report shows below. Specifically, survey respondents identified knowledge of English language as important for 84 percent of the occupations studied for the CEP report.

CEP report

“As the study suggests, elementary and secondary schools that consciously teach these kinds of competencies along with subject area content will better prepare their graduates for careers,” says Matthew Frizzell, a senior research associate at CEP and one of the report’s authors. “But this isn’t just the responsibility of schools. Families, communities, and business leaders also play a role in ensuring that all students have the opportunity to develop these important skills.”

Kristen Loschert is editorial director at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Deeper Learning

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