ERIC Identifier: ED325659
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Lankard, Bettina A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education
Employability--The Fifth Basic Skill. ERIC Digest No.
Communication, mathematics, and science skills have been identified
as the three basic academic skills required of high school graduates. Entry
into the job market is contingent upon having a fourth set of skills as
well. These are the job-specific or vocational skills required by the occupation.
Although these four types of skills are critical to an individual's career
progression, they do not guarantee job success. Many employers believe
that employability skills--skills that enable an individual to acquire
and keep a job--are of primary importance (Lankard 1987). This ERIC Digest
discusses the relevance of employability as a fifth basic skill, describes
employability components, and discusses strategies for incorporating employability
skills into the instructional process.
WHY ARE EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS BASIC TO JOB SUCCESS?
The changing nature of today's employment picture is creating new challenges
for employers and employees alike. Employers, faced with a shrinking labor
pool, are encountering many applicants who have minimum job competencies.
From these applicants, they must select for hire those who have the greatest
potential for meeting job demands. Conversely, the jobs for which employers
are hiring today require workers to have a broader range of competencies
than ever before--competencies that are job specific but also include the
kinds of management and organizational skills previously required only
The demand for this new kind of worker has been triggered by a number
of factors, one of which is the multicultural nature of the work force.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that, by 2000, 75 percent of all
people entering the work force will be women and minorities, many of whom
are immigrants. To facilitate the job success of these individuals, employers
and co-workers alike must be supportive and attempt to understand the unique
attitudes, behaviors, and habits common to people of various cultures.
Good interpersonal skills are crucial to such efforts at "valuing differences."
Increased automation has reduced the need for supervision of entry-level
workers. These workers are now expected to operate independently in roles
that require problem-solving and decision-making skills. Increased competition
from national and international markets is also influencing changes in
the workplace. Competition is a major factor driving business to be more
efficient and to employ strategies that will improve production, service,
and product quality. Because such strategies typically involve improving
worker collaboration and teamwork, employers need creative, flexible workers
who have a broad range of interpersonal and managerial skills.
WHAT SKILLS ARE TERMED "EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS"?
There are numerous listings of the subject area of employability skills.
Most of the lists focus on the topics of personal image, attitudes, habits,
and behaviors; techniques of communication, problem solving, and decision
making; and management and organizational processes. A grouping of such
skills was summarized by Gainer (1988) as follows:
1. Individual Competence: communication skills, comprehension, computation,
2. Personal Reliability Skills: personal management, ethics, and vocational
3. Economic Adaptability Skills: problem solving, learning, employability,
and career development
4. Group and Organizational Effectiveness Skills: interpersonal skills,
organizational skills, and skills in negotiation, creativity, and leadership.
The CONNECTIONS: SCHOOL AND WORK TRANSITIONS curriculum called
"Work Maturity Skills" (Lankard 1987) identifies seven categories of employability
skills and offers competency-based training modules for each. These categories
and related modules are as follows:
1. Present a Positive Image: follow good grooming practices, practice
good health habits, dress appropriately for the job, exhibit self-confidence
2. Exhibit Positive Work Attitudes: use basic social skills, be creative
and willing to learn, take pride in your work
3. Practice Good Work Habits: maintain regular attendance, be thorough
and diligent, follow safety practices
4. Practice Ethical Behavior: exercise integrity and good judgment,
respect property, follow company rules
5. Communicate Effectively: demonstrate speech, writing, and nonverbal
communication skills; demonstrate good listening habits
6. Accept Responsibility: use initiative, use problem-solving techniques,
manage personal responsibilities
7. Cooperate with Others: work as a member of a team, work under supervision
Of the range of desired employability skills, some are evident to employers
as early as the job interview. The effect of positive and negative behaviors,
for example, was documented in a study of employer hiring decisions (Hollenbeck
1984). In this study, employers who watched a series of videotaped interviews
rated applicants on job readiness. Applicants who demonstrated negative
behaviors--language, appearance, mannerisms, and especially attitude--received
lower assessments than those without negative behaviors. Negative behaviors
also lowered employer assessments of other factors such as education and
training, even though these factors remained constant in all interviews.
Bad attitude had the greatest negative effect on employers' decisions to
hire. Of the machine trade, clerical, and retail employers who assessed
the applicants, none of the clerical or retail employers and only 11.1
percent of the machine trade employers would hire an applicant with a bad
attitude, irrespective of the applicant's education and training record.
The Research and Policy Committee of the Committee on Economic Development
summarized their 1984 survey of employer concerns in three points (Buck
and Barrick 1987):
1. For entry-level positions, employers are looking for young people
who demonstrate a sense of responsibility, self-discipline, pride, teamwork,
2. Employers strongly value employees' ability to learn and to solve
3. Employers think that schools are doing a poor job of developing these
much-needed attitudes, abilities, and skills.
A survey sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers (Barton
and Kirsch 1990) found that employers want schools to take more responsibility
for students' employability skill development. Employers said that they
want schools to teach both general and specific employability skills, including
attendance, punctuality, and good work attitudes. The consensus of employers
in these and other similar studies remains consistent--employability skills
are important on the job and must be taught in the schools.
DEVELOPING EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS
The best results seem to be achieved when employability skill training
is integrated with academic and vocational skill training--forming a set
of five basic skills. In this way, the relevance of the five types of skills
are interrelated and taught as basic to job market success--something in
which the learner has a level of interest.
The following strategies are suggested for incorporating employability
skill development concepts in the classroom (Bishop and Lankard 1987):
1. Demand Good Deportment in the Classroom. Initiate strict guidelines
for tardiness, class cutting, and discipline.
2. Express Work Values through Classroom Instruction. Promote and require
timeliness, effort, responsibility, and other values. Over 65 percent of
studied employers were negatively affected by workers who did not try.
3. Encourage Self-Esteem in Students. Expect the best from students.
Attitudes about self were reflected in applicants' nonverbal behaviors--a
factor influencing employer assessments.
4. Promote and Display a Positive Attitude in the Classroom. Attitude
is an important part of a person's employability rating and can be improved
with practice and effort.
5. Use Instructional Materials that Illustrate the Importance of Employability
Skill Development. Izzo and Lankard (1987) provide examples of how having
(or lacking) employability skills affects a person's ability to find, get,
and keep a job.
Additional strategies teachers can use to monitor students' employability
skill development were identified by Buck and Barrick (1987) as follows:
1. Identify the problem so that the person can recognize habits that
2. Define the terms that describe various habits
3. Devise a way to measure traits, attitudes, or habits
4. Give frequent feedback
5. Concentrate on improving a limited number of habits at a time
6. Employ a meaningful reward system
7. Tell employers about improvements in work habits and attitudes
8. Provide the student with a method of monitoring on-the-job behavior
9. Make other class members a part of the monitoring, evaluation, and
By addressing employability skill development as a fifth basic skill
and teaching it concurrently with communication, mathematics, science,
and vocational courses, the content can be analyzed and practiced daily
so that students automatically follow practices and demonstrate behaviors
that will enhance their job performance and retention.
Barton, Paul E., and Kirsch, Irwin S. Workplace Competencies: The Need
To Improve Literacy and Employment Readiness. Policy Perspective Series.
Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1990. (ERIC
No. ED 317 873).
Bishop, John, and Lankard, Bettina. The Employer's Choice: An Action
Guide to Youth Employment. In Connections. The Connector's Guide. Columbus:
The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State
University, 1987. (ERIC No. ED 288 965).
Buck, Linda L., and Barrick, R. Kirby. "They're Trained, But Are They
Employable?" Vocational Education Journal 62, no. 5 (August 1987): 29-31.
(ERIC No. EJ 355 193).
Copeland, L. "Learning to Manage a Multicultural Work Force." Training
25, no. 5 (May 1988): 48-51, 55-56. (ERIC No. EJ 369 880).
Copeland, L. "Valuing Diversity, Part 1: Making the Most of Cultural
Differences at the Workplace." Personnel 65, no. 6 (June 1988): 52-60.
(ERIC No. EJ 371 538).
Gainer, Lei. ASTD Update: Basic Skills. Alexandria, VA: American Society
for Training and Development, February 1988. (ERIC No. ED 291 882).
Gerber, B. "Managing Diversity." Training 27, no. 7 (July 1990): 23-30.
(ERIC No. EJ 409 835).
Izzo, M. V., and Lankard, B. A. The Employer's Choice: What Works on
the Job? Columbus: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education,
The Ohio State University, 1987. (ERIC No. ED 288 970).
Lankard, Bettina. The Employer's Choice: In the Job Search. Columbus:
The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State
Lankard, Bettina, and Miguel, Richard. The Employer's Choice: Priorities
That Count. Columbus: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education,
The Ohio State University, 1987. (ERIC No. ED 299 969).