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How College, Career, and Work Readiness Connect for Success

Understanding college, career, and work readiness are more important than ever in the new world of work. In this article, Eric Shepherd highlights distinctions and explains why.

Why is it that students, leaving schools or college, so often seem to lack so many of the essential skills for the roles they want? Of course, organizations prefer someone that has already had a couple of years’ experience. But why is this so important – and so necessary? It seems that our students are not ‘job-ready.’ College graduates are smart and have plenty of potentials. But they often fall short in terms of soft skills and behaviors required for the workplace.

The transition students must make between secondary and post-secondary education is one key milestone that can shape the future of a student. In recent times, efforts have been made to align with college and career readiness. Employers in need of a more skilled workforce are now entering the fray, trying to help align education to the skills required for the workplace and in line with global trends. Several institutes ably back these efforts to provide graduating students with the right mix of skills, knowledge, and industry-specific training to help them towards a fruitful career.

Educational and organizational development plans often discuss college, career, and work readiness. But what is meant by these terms isn’t always clear. The introduction of high school grades for workplace competencies and social skills provides a signal that academic qualifications are not enough. The next step must undoubtedly be assessing the inclusion of fundamental workplace competencies in the form of capabilities and behavioral skills. The fact that workplace competencies are paramount, along with core academic skills, is established. Competency frameworks are now aiming to bring these concepts together to help students progress educational outcomes to valuable workplace competencies.

College Readiness

Among the three readiness concepts, college readiness has far less ambiguity when it comes to the types and levels of skills that are needed to transition from secondary to post-secondary education successfully. As long as a student is deemed to be at a level of achievement where they can enroll and succeed, without remediation, in a first-year post-secondary course, they are considered to be “college-ready.” College readiness benchmarks and college education standards can help determine a student’s college readiness.

Some college readiness assessments represent the level of achievement required to succeed in post-secondary education. Success can be defined as a specific grade level in the relevant credit-bearing course. When assessments are based on national norms, benchmarks are expressed as median values for course placements. As such, they represent a set of expectations typical for such institutes. Combining college readiness benchmarks and standards can formulate academic expectations for students so they can succeed in post-secondary courses.

The latest college readiness benchmarks also include behavioral aspects aligning them with workplace readiness. Research shows that both career and workplace readiness demands attention for a person to be successful. That focus must include nonacademic factors such as motivation, interests, preferences, behavioral tendencies, and beliefs.

Career Readiness

The current definitions of career readiness often revolve around static assumptions that students who completed the K-16 education pathway are career-ready. This not only excludes K-12 students but also overlooks the dynamic nature of today’s workplace. The workforce today requires many skills. One such skill is the ability to learn. Today the vast majority of people will hold various and different jobs in their lifetime. That means they will need multiple post-high school credentials to remain relevant in our ever-changing workplace.

A bare-bones definition of career readiness includes the level of foundational skills required to succeed in a career cluster or pathway. These definitions will also include the level of career planning skills necessary to progress within a chosen career path or to fork into other career paths.

Following are the Two Primary Factors of Career Readiness:

  • Functional Skills: The level of functional skills is directly correlated with an individual’s career path and his present position on the path. Problem-solving, critical thinking, math, and reading are all considered parts of functional skills.

  • Social-Emotional Intelligence: These are combinations of behavioral skills and personal characteristics that apply to a broad spectrum of scenarios. Communication skills, adaptability, discipline, cooperation, and integrity are some of the examples of social-emotional intelligence.

These two factors are foundational readiness criteria and are considered to be transferable skills. They are necessary for the workplace. But they also provide the base for more complex and advanced skill development. Irrespective of the career path or job, these skills apply to at least some level of almost every occupation. This makes them portable. Individuals who have developed functional skills and social-emotional intelligence become more successful in the job market and have a higher chance of succeeding in the workplace. Reading memos, listening to and following instructions, writing emails, delivering a presentation, and going the extra mile at work all require these foundational skills.

Career planning skills, on the other hand, inform an individual on their academic and career choices. Effective career planning leads to a more viable and exciting career pathway. It helps identify educational institutions that fit with their career of interest. These decisions impact the chances of an individual’s success in his career in terms of performance, job satisfaction, earnings, academic achievement, and lifelong learning.

Work Readiness

Work readiness is directly tied with an individual’s fitment to a job. More precisely, it reveals whether an individual is a viable choice for a job. The level of foundational skills differs from one career to another. But within a single career path, the level and mix of foundation skills also vary significantly from one to another. The definition of work readiness suggests the minimum level of foundational skills needed by an individual to make them qualified for a job or occupation. Meanwhile, the job or occupation’s requirements are determined by job/task analysis or occupational profiles.

Workplace readiness covers workplace, behavioral, and functional skills. But unlike the skills needed in career readiness, the functional skills for the workplace are not so portable; they tend to be career or occupation-specific. For different occupations, the level and importance of these skills vary. They may also contain more and different skills and depend on the critical tasks needed to be completed in a particular job. As such, it is possible to achieve career readiness for a specific career before achieving work readiness for a specific role.

Work readiness benchmarks are based on work readiness assessment scores. These scores represent the level of skill the person possesses or needs to achieve to succeed in a particular job.