Generic Skills in Career and Technical Education

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Generic Skills in Career and Technical Education

Career and Technical Educators Employ a Variety of Strategies for Teaching Generic Skills

The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified the general skills that most workplaces require, thus providing a basis for programs that prepare students for employment. Reform programs such as Tech Prep and High Schools that Work strive to incorporate these "generic" skills as they offer students a rigorous academic background, technological literacy skill development, and learning experiences that are situated in the context of real-world environments (Pucel 1999). Integrated academic and CTE programs and contextual learning efforts offer similar opportunities to promote the learning of generic skills by linking them to specific workplace and social practices. Workplace learning experiences are another way of highlighting generic skill development by placing students in job situations where these generic skills are used in combination with occupational or technical skills.

Although the United States has adopted a variety of strategies for the teaching of generic skills, it is not the only country to do so. Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have initiated similar programs to address generic skill development. In Australia, integrated curriculum that infuses literacy into specific vocational courses has served to illustrate the necessity of contextualized, multiple literacies (Searle et al. 1999). Case Studies to Advance Skills and Employability, a project conducted at the Universities of Northumbria and Newcastle, emphasized the development of employability skills within the academic curriculum (Holmes and Miller 2000). The contextual integration of employability skills into curriculum has become a recent trend in Canada and the United Kingdom (Overtoom 2000).

Although there is evidence that generic skills are being taught in schools, there is great ambiguity about what they are. Many terms have been used to describe them: key skills, core skills, transferable skills, personal transferable skills, and employability skills. The list of skills defined by whatever term is being used varies across countries; however, most lists include communication skills, interpersonal and social skills, organization and planning skills, problem-solving skills, creative thinking, literacy, and technology skills. The Australian key competencies add "cultural understanding" as a generic skill (Werner 1995). Most attempts to define generic skills more closely "have resulted in a plethora of superficially similar but often significantly different lists" (Drummond, Nixon, and Wiltshire 1998, p. 20).

Guile (2002) contends that definitions of generic skills are grounded in the complexity of relationship that they imply, which in turn directs how the skills are being taught.

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