Employability Skills Assessment Tool (ESAT): Connecting People to Work

ESAT was created to support the integration of “soft” skill development in training programs so they are given the same or greater emphasis as literacy or technical skills

Resolving the looming labour shortage facing Canadians will require a variety of strategies including increased immigration, the retention of older workers, and the engagement of typically under-represented groups in the workforce. The latter includes people who face barriers to employment arising in part from a lack of “soft” skills such as confidence, accountability, personal presentation etc. Moreover, employers across North America report that many new employees lack these fundamental skills. It is typically stated that employers would rather hire people with strong “soft” skills, and invest in upgrading technical skills as required, than the reverse.

Addressing problems related to “soft” skills can be a major challenge to career practitioners. Helping people change behaviours can be intensely personal and difficult, especially if combined with discomfort with the reaction honest feedback may spark. However, the provision of honest feedback about some very personal matters is, in our experience, what clients often need most if they are to find success in the workplace. The skills pyramid (Figure 1) illustrates the point that employability (“soft”) skills are the base upon which other skills rest – to ignore them is to ignore the most common cause of a person’s failure to connect to the workplace.

Careering_Brinkhurst _Figure 1- pyramid

In recognition of this, Futureworx Society of Truro, NS has created a tool for supporting the development of the nine core “soft” skills. The skills were selected based on our over 30 years of experience working with clients and employers. With funding from The Counselling Foundation of Canada and RESDAC, Futureworx has digitized the tool and had it translated into French. The resulting cloud-based tool, ESAT, is now being used in all Futureworx programming and by a variety of organizations in Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, with great success.

ESAT was created to support the integration of “soft” skill development in training programs so they are given the same or greater emphasis as literacy or technical skills. This emphasis is needed if people are to overcome multiple barriers to employment that have limited their success, sometimes for years. The tool provides a respectful, positively oriented vehicle for supporting people as they look at personal behaviours. Applied as an integral part of training, it ensures that learners gain enhanced self-awareness and a set of personal management skills that are fully aligned to the needs of employers. These skills include motivation, attitude, accountability, time management, stress management, presentation, teamwork, adaptability and confidence, but ESAT can also be tuned to function with any 12 skills defined for a particular sector or group.

ESAT works by first providing a common framework of definitions and behavioural exemplars for discussing and tackling the behavioural issues that may arise within the training program.  The tool focuses on behaviours that can be seen and heard, those which employers also focus on. Within the safe, employment-oriented environment of the program, learners are observed interacting with supervisors, instructors and peers, and their behavioural patterns and triggers are identified. ESAT then encourages discussion of behaviours between a case manager and learner, by contrasting a self-assessment with a consensus-based staff assessment presented in the form of a radar plot (Figure 2). The plot highlights strengths and areas for improvement from both staff and learner perspectives and, most import, reveals the perception differences that so often create difficulty in the employer/employee relationship.

In the example shown, clear perception gaps exist in stress management, attitude, presentation and time management, some of which may be linked to a few underlying issues. The case manager’s role is to help the learner explore these issues and define alternative behaviours which they can test within the safe learning environment of the program. Progress over time is tracked by ESAT on a Distance Travelled plot for each skill (Figure 3).

Careering_Brinkhurst_Figure 3- distance travelledESAT is a team-based tool that, over time, supports the sharing of information and the establishment of consistent feedback among the full range of people engaged in supporting a person in their movement towards the workplace. It provides the team with an indication of the person’s readiness for work or further training, and can also be exercised during work exposures in order to monitor progress. Applications for existing employees are also being studied.

As a tool for career practitioners, ESAT offers a way to combine the input from a group of professionals working with a client in a way that is consistent and meaningful. Dealing with “soft” skills as an integral part of programming, with clear outcomes, an effective assessment methodology, and ESAT’s curriculum supports, programs can have a dramatic impact on the lives of learners. Maximizing this impact requires orienting practitioners to the tool and to the principles that underpin it, including placing “soft” skill development at the core of practice. This involves learning appropriate ways to provide feedback and coaching regarding “soft” skills so that practitioners are comfortable addressing highly personal matters with their clients.

Paul Brinkhurst, MSc, Bed, is the Innovation Developer and ESAT co-ordinator at Futureworx, based in Truro, NS. His experience as a parent, naval architect and teacher all inform his approach to skill development. ESAT and supporting curriculum and training is available from Futureworx, which specialize in integrating employability skill development into training programs. For more information, contact esat@futureworx.ca, go to futureworx.ca, or call 902.843.4292.

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