In a fast-changing labor market, a broad set of behavioral skills are key to long-term career advancement for young adults.
Many young adult talent development organizations have long recognized the importance of employability skills—also referred to as foundational skills—and pride themselves on making them a key component of their curricular strategies. The short-term goal is to help young adults get a foothold in the labor market; the long-term goal is to develop the kinds of flexible skills they will need to attain economic self-sufficiency in a labor market that is constantly evolving.
JFF’s recent publication How Can Young Adults Advance in a Turbulent Economy highlights four key strategies to help young adults navigate the turbulent labor market: (1) designing career pathways based on transferable skills, (2) using up-to-the-minute labor market information, (3) improving relationships with employer partners, and (4) changing policy to support young adult economic advancement. In this blog post, we’ll focus on the development of transferable skills because it is perhaps the most prominent step the field is taking to prepare young adults for employment over the long term.
Transferable skills….encompass a broad range of skills, including effective communication, problem-solving, attention to detail, punctuality, and creativity.
Specialized technical or occupational skills are relatively straightforward to define, teach, and assess because they involve specific knowledge and competencies within an occupational sector. A computer support specialist, for example, must know about networking, operating systems, IT security, systems administration, and the like. Transferable skills, on the other hand, are much harder to define, teach, and assess. They encompass a broad range of skills, including effective communication, problem-solving, attention to detail, punctuality, and creativity. Such attributes are highly desired by employers and can set young people up for long-term success and advancement even as technical demands continue to evolve.
The most successful young adult talent development organizations strike the right balance between teaching specialized technical skills and transferrable skills. Most importantly, however, they are focusing on helping young people recognize and articulate the transferrable skills they have acquired through their various life experiences to use them to navigate the world of work and advance their career goals.
But as the field continues to evolve, program offerings that combine the teaching of employability skills with sector-specific occupational training will continue to be critical in preparing young adults for economic self-sufficiency.
The following strategies collected from members of JFF’s Young Adult Talent Development Network and the broader field can be used to help young people develop awareness of skills they have acquired throughout their lives and self-advocate as they seek paths to long-term career advancement.
- Develop a transferrable skills curriculum, working in partnership with employers. International Youth Foundation’s Passport to Success and World Education’s Personal and Workplace Success Skills Library offer a variety of resources for teaching and assessing transferable skills, including curriculum frameworks that can be adapted to individual program needs.
- Offer one-on-one or group sessions to talk with young people about the skills they acquired before joining your program and are developing in your program, how they are using those skills in their lives, how those skills connect to their longer-term career trajectories, and how those skills can be reframed and used in the context of work. Generation USA uses the Jobscan tool to help young people decipher job descriptions and identify positions most closely aligned with their skill sets.
- Use the 7-Second Resumes approach developed by Grads of Life to empower young people to reframe their life experiences and talk about some of their most fundamental strengths, such as resiliency, grit, integrity, and leadership, as essential assets in the workplace.
- Use the Best Bet approach to put young people in charge of finding out about the skills that are most in demand by employers in specific occupations and sectors and developing a career plan that matches their findings and personal career aspirations.
- Offer mentoring and coaching opportunities to help young adults build social capital, including relationships with individuals in the community and the labor force to provide support, encouragement, information, and connections to resources that can open doors to advancement. Hopeworks, for example, hosts a “Chat and Chew” program during which professionals from the community meet with young people a few times a week to talk with them about their career journeys while helping them build personal connections and grow their social networks.
While acknowledging the positive steps in the young adult talent development field, we should not pretend that skill gains alone will address the obstacles to advancement that young adults face; racism, exclusion, and occupational segregation are pervasive barriers that need to be tackled head-on. But as the field continues to evolve, program offerings that combine the teaching of employability skills with sector-specific occupational training will continue to be critical in preparing young adults for economic self-sufficiency.