This is one education reform business will applaud

Incorporating core competencies in education will change the way people find, and keep, jobs

CALGARY, Alta. April 5, 2016/ Troy Media/ — Rising jobless rates should create a buyers’ market for employers. But many Canadian employers say the pool of competent workers is still pretty shallow.

Employers say they can’t find enough people who communicate well, think critically, work in teams, or manage themselves or their time well. Members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council of Canada agree.

The problem is that academic programs, in kindergarten-to-Grade 12 settings and in post-secondary, have not always done a good job of giving students the necessary competencies.

But help is on the way.

Kindergarten-to-Grade 12 systems across Canada are introducing competencies into curriculums. The process means students still gather plenty of knowledge, but now they are also learning how to apply that knowledge more broadly.

The approach is part of what educators call cross-curricular competencies. These skills include communication, collaboration, personal and social management, and critical thinking, as well as the more traditional literacy and numeracy.

Many Canadian school systems are also incorporating competencies into their assessment of students or are planning to. Quality competency assessment needs to become part of the reporting process everywhere.

These competencies (along with technical skills) are what employers look for when hiring.

Not only are they cross-curricular, they are also cross-life competencies. For students, this approach should lead to more engagement, as they find what they are learning to be more relevant. Imagine the change in dinner table conversation if your kids knew why they needed to “learn this stupid stuff.”

Helping students identify how they can use what they have learned also eases their transition into post-secondary studies.

Colleges and polytechnic institutes have always had technical competencies in their programming. Now Canadian universities have begun to identify competencies that students can build in class.

Focusing on competencies helps students put together the kinds of resumes that employers are looking for.

Hiring on the basis of competencies is very common elsewhere in the world. And now Canadian employers are catching on to competencies as a way to be more certain that the people they hire will be a good fit.

Many employers test for the competencies they need when hiring or promoting employees. Candidates who show that they can apply knowledge broadly have an edge with those employers who understand the competencies they are looking for in employees.

While our school systems are responsible for much more than preparing children for their working life, this latest change in the way they are taught will help them to become, and stay, employed.

Parents often learn the hard way that not every change to the education system works for their children. New math, whole language and other experiments have only had varying success.

But the change to competency-based education is one that parents, employers and society in general should embrace wholeheartedly. It is critically important that we all gain knowledge, use it well and adapt to change.

Competencies are vital for new grads, existing employees and particularly for those people looking for work when jobs become more scarce.

Janet Lane is the director of the Centre for Human Capital Policy at the Canada West Foundation.

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