The consensus is clear– students in NYC Skills Lab programs are aware of how important 21st century skills are to succeed in the workplace. One student said “I don’t want to be known for lateness, I want to be known for my character.” Another knows things do not always go as scheduled. “I’m good at finding an alternate plan,” he/she said.
NYC Skills Lab conducted focus groups to understand student’s perspectives on the value of 21st century skills. The report allowed NYC Skills Lab staff to hear perceived strengths and weaknesses of the support received through their school’s internship program and to garner feedback on how to improve it. The focus group targeted students of schools who were a part of the WorkForce Alliance program, one of three programs under the NYC Skills Lab initiative, that supports school educators in cultivating student development of 21st century employ-ability skills in preparation for internships. Students are given meaningful work and feedback on the skills it takes to succeed in an evolving workforce.
The WorkForce Alliance uses a framework called the 10 Core Employ-ability Skills, created by MHA Labs by conducting research focused on highlighting the skills that are most critical in allowing individuals to gain employment. Those core employ-ability skills include: needing minimal supervision to complete tasks, managing time to complete tasks on schedule, balancing one’s own needs with the needs of others, and identifying alternative ideas and processes that may be more effective for the work. In the focus group, students identified the importance of 21st century skills by noting they are important factors “jobs look at…and things you need in a professional setting.”
Students agreed that they were practicing the skills inside and outside of the classroom. Through sports, leadership activities, creating art and learning in a classroom setting, they encountered situations that required problem-solving, verbal communication and collaboration with others. Students were proud to have the ability to engage in and practice the employ-ability skills. Focus group participants also gave positive examples of how having access to the vocabulary and a process for building those skills are important to their development and growth.
Of the 10 Core Employ-ability Skills, planning for success and goal-setting were deemed most helpful. This high ranking speaks to the need students have to control their academic and personal affairs. In addition to citing the helpfulness of specific skills, students highlighted various activities that prepared them for success in the workforce–mock interviews, resume help and workforce role plays to name a few. Students also noted the importance of setting goals.
“When we wrote down our goals and how to achieve them, it helped me see my growth,” one student said. “It helps me know I just have to put my mind to it.”
Throughout the course of the focus groups, NYC Skills Lab learned that giving students opportunities to develop 21st century skills empowers them to take a more active role in their education and preparation for life post high school. Definitions of work readiness changed for students as they went through their school internship program and participated in internships. One student said, “Before, when I thought about work, it was just professionalism. There was no problem solving or planning for success. I just talked about how you dress to go to work. But now I think you need all of them. You need collaboration to work with teammates. And if you need help you need to try on your own first.”
The focus and integration of employ-ability skills into their school internship program is highly recommended by students because they felt it prepared them for the workforce in ways they would not have been able to learn otherwise. One student commented, “Honestly, I felt over-prepared for this internship because of [this program]. We studied the skills and I started my job and thought ‘Oh, this is pretty easy.’ I was expecting it to be harder.”
The significance of these findings cannot be overlooked. Employees, innovators and leaders of the future believe 21st century skills are crucial in preparing students for the workforce, and educators are beginning to take notice. The workforce is changing – it is a dynamic environment, and those who are able to continue developing their skill sets will be the most prepared to succeed in our economy’s workforce.