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Fordham High School for the Arts and their Awesome Drama Skills

Fordham High School for the Arts’ CTE Drama program bridges the learning of 21st century skills with theater and drama-related work disciplines. As students work through the program, they learn to work as stage hands, production assistants and much more. In the process, they become adept at 21st century skills such as problem solving, verbal communication and collaboration.

Linda Key, CTE Drama Teacher and NYC Skills Lab Workforce Alliance Internship Coordinator, believes that these “skills are absolutely necessary in order for [students] to be successful in their workplaces.”

Fordham High School for the Arts has state of the art equipment where CTE Drama interns use their skills in professional productions. They are taught hard skills, such as how to work the lights, audio production and making sure the technology on stage is fully functional before the plays. They are also taught 21st century skills such as time management and balancing the needs of their peers with their own. Having familiarity with those skills helps interns stay on track and effectively balance the multitude of tasks and personalities surrounding a production.

Fordham’s CTE Drama program uses the Top Ten Core Employability Skills as a framework of high-impact skills students will need in order to be successful at any job or career. Leslie Beller, CEO and Founder of MHA Labs, explains that the core employability skills were created “to support work-based learning and summer job practitioners.” Beller explains, “MHA Labs larger work readiness research initiative has studied over 95 skills with over 12,000 employer performance reviews to isolate the core skills that must be in place for youth internship success.” A student who has been trained with these skills will be able to maintain focus on tasks despite distractions, manage time and stay on schedule, and balance their needs with those of their peers.

Through the internship program, employers give interns feedback on how they are performing in the Top Ten Core Employability Skills. The process is most certainly rewarding, but it comes with difficulties. Linda Key explains, “The most difficult aspect of integrating the skills is receiving timely feedback from the employer.” When students are unable to receive feedback, it becomes more difficult to implement and reflect on the skills they are working on developing.

Within the program, there are many reasons to rave. In the program, students are able to develop professionally and explore career choices that suit their personalities – especially when it comes to theater or technical theater. Not only do they leave understanding themselves better as interns and potential employees, they also leave with a strong grasp of key employability skills to help them in any job or career they seek.

Student Focus Groups: We Need 21st Century Skills to Succeed in the Workplace

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.

To learn more about the impact using the Core Employability Framework had on our students, read our Workforce Alliance Pilot Year Student Focus Group Report!