It is easy to forget, amid the near mania associated with college admissions and acceptance, that many students do not have the aptitude or indeed funding to attend college, and will need to work directly after 12th grade. This is obviously an important awareness to have as a teacher, because the workplace is currently very different from the classroom, yet we have an obligation to prepare our students not only for the academic rigors of college, but also for the realities of employment.
So what exactly does “work ready” mean? Surprisingly that is quite a hard definition to come by.
However, most employers agree is that generally speaking the workplace requires
- the ability to identify a problem;
- apply effective problem-solving and decision-making skills;
- and to recognize and then seize opportunities when they arise.
Pretty nebulous stuff, curriculum-wise, outside of employment preparedness skill-specific courses, but nonetheless helpful indicators of what employers expect.
Some employers also speak to more specific skill such as punctuality, communication and team-work as being essential skills they expect high school graduates to demonstrate in order to be employable. However, with all the good will in the world, as an educator you will not be able to materially influence what your students learn without additions or changes to the curriculum.
But there are a number of things we can focus on to better prepare students for the workplace no matter what subject we are teaching:
Teamwork is often named as an essential skill by employers, and frankly is also essential to being a functioning adult in life in general. Understanding how to communicate, compromise and share credit helps students make valuable contributions to projects. Employers want youngsters to at least understand how people work in teams with little or no oversight.
Some ways to encourage your students to respond to teamwork projects include:
- Defining the task clearly;
- Helping teams define roles;
- Explaining how open communication can help;
- Brainstorming how to resolve disagreements.
Linear learning (rote repetition) can often result in an inability to understand the context of a problem, and consequently an inability to find lateral, creative solutions. Employers by definition are not going to provide answers; they expect employees to provide solutions. So self-directed learning, such via e-learning platforms is often a useful way to invert the normal teaching model and challenge students to come up with their own solutions in their own way.
One way of encouraging a problem-solving approach is to visualize the issues, some tips include:
- Mind Maps. It is helpful to create mind maps of a problem and its potential solutions prior to working on the problem. Mental imaging allows students to see and appreciate the scope of a problem, and where potential solutions can be applied.
- Tables. Microsoft’s Excel is one of the most powerful table creation tools in the digital world. The sooner your students appreciate its immense capacity to order and manipulate information - regardless of their aptitude for computers - the better equipped they will be for the workplace.
- Manipulatives. An overly complex name simply meaning objects we move around. By transferring the problem to be solved into objects that can be moved across a surface can also help students break into a new way of thinking about approaches to the problem.
There is little doubt that learning skills such as these are not only good for work, but also good for life. It is rewarding to know that when focusing on developing workplace skills we are not only creating employees, but ultimately well-rounded adults.