Connecting the dots between learning
and employment.

Bridging the Gap Between Students and Industry through 21st-Century Employability Skills

Brightly colored paper peppered the tables around the room at our most recent PTECH partners and supporters meeting. Listed on them were skills like problem solving, initiative, decision making and time management. The discussion centered around employability skills – those 21st century skills most desired in today’s workforce candidates.

What skills are expected of entry level job candidates?

Which skills can be taught?

How do we help students be better prepared with these skills before entering the workforce?

Jay Larsen of the Idaho Technology Council wondered how we can get more students in computer science, a field that breeds critical thinking and problem solving, which are key skills for anyone working in the technology field.

Heather Sprague, VP of HR at Saint Alphonsus, voiced the importance of finding candidates with strong communication skills and integrity. Without those two skills, candidates will not be successful in their jobs.

Angelique Pruitt, an HR manager at Idaho Power, spoke passionately about how not enough job candidates possess the basic personal and social skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

As I looked around the room and listened to the discussion, I noticed several themes emerging:

First, different sectors place a premium on different skills. For example, our health partners discussed the importance of empathy above other skills discussed, and affirmed that just about every patient facing employee works in teams – making teamwork a mandatory skill for any employee in this track.

Another theme that emerged is that these skills are hierarchically related to each other. For example, one group laid out ‘Applied Knowledge’ as the number one skill they valued in employees, a skill which is supported by sound decision making, problem solving, initiative and critical thinking skills. These insights together indicate a need to develop a tailored, targeted approach to make the best use of scarce resources as we develop the successful employee of the future.

So what can we do to help Idaho students be better prepared for the workforce?

The Idaho PTECH Network is developing a system of experiential learning activities focused on developing these employability skills.  These activities range from field trips and meeting with our industry partners to identifying and reinforcing skills with our remote coaching interactions to interactive design-thinking challenges with One Stone, a student-led organization focused on creating tomorrow’s leaders. 

As we continue our discussion with industry partners relating to these skills, The Idaho PTECH Network will develop ways to measure, develop and demonstrate these employability skills. 

What can industry and education leaders do?

As we refine the prioritized skills our industry partners value, Idaho PTECH is working to develop these key employability skills in students through existing school based touch points. But it’s hard to imagine doing that without providing ‘learning by doing’ opportunities with our engaged industry partners.

We will continue to seek out work based learning opportunities through PTECH experiential activities, including field trips, job shadows and internships. Each of these activities presents an opportunity to develop industry specific employability skills to ensure students hit the job running.

The Idaho PTECH Network values all of our industry partners' and supporters' input and feedback on employability skills.  We look forward to continuing this work and developing stronger connections between Idaho’s students and industry.