Career competencies and skills translation: Helping students prepare for the future of work
Brock University project aims to help students leverage post-secondary experiences in labour market
Research suggests that new university graduates possess the fundamental skills and competencies necessary for success in the job market; however, they often struggle to articulate to potential employers exactly how their post-secondary education teaches them these skills. This disconnect creates a perceived skills gap between the emerging workforce and labour market expectations.
Recognizing the increasing demand for post-secondary institutions to prepare our students for the “future of work,” Brock University’s Co-op, Career & Experiential Education department (CCEE) launched the Competencies and Skills Translation Project in 2018, with the support of the Government of Ontario’S Career Ready Fund. The initial goal of the project was to help students translate their experiences, knowledge, skills and attributes into language used and understood in the workforce/labour market. Three years in, Brock has become an innovative leader in the post-secondary space through the collaborative development and campus-wide integration of the Brock Career Competencies.
Finding a common language
When devising the scope of the Competencies and Skills Translation Project, we decided not to adopt one of the many existing competency frameworks designed for higher education. We felt that these frameworks, while instrumental in our research, did not address what became our guiding question: What makes a Brock student unique? And, by extension, how can we help our students navigate their career journey by leveraging their experiences as opportunities for competency development and reflection?
To answer this question, we focused on the goal of creating a common language around skills and competencies. We wanted to find opportunities to embed competency learning across the student experience and develop ways for students to effectively assess and articulate their level of competency. It was important to the Co-op, Career & Experiential Education department to align our framework with students’ curricular and co-curricular experiences, acknowledging key learning moments from across the student lifecycle.
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Once our goals and scope were established, our next step was to gain a greater understanding of the changing landscape of the Canadian workplace. We did this by conducting a scan of work on skills and competencies in higher education and industry. Our review included research from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, along with the ground-breaking work of University of Victoria’s Co-operative Education Program & Career Services.
Consultation and collaboration
Cross-campus collaboration was central to this project from the beginning. We needed to understand the various touchpoints, experiences and learning opportunities that our students have with departments and faculties across campus, as well as how our campus partners support students.
We accomplished this by forming the Brock Competencies Advisory Committee, which comprised members from all faculties and departments. The purpose of the committee was to review the project goals and research, and to work collaboratively to develop a common language around skills and competencies. The group, led by CCEE, made meaningful connections between best practices highlighted in external research and the Brock student experience, resulting in the first draft of the Brock Competencies.
We deliberately wrote the Brock Competencies using active language (i.e. Apply Knowledge rather than Applying Knowledge). We believe this shifts competency development and skills translation from a theoretical concept to a practical and ongoing part of the career journey. Our framework was designed to reflect the Brock student experience, and nothing speaks to this more than our decision to adopt Surgite! (Latin for “Push on”), the last words of General Sir Isaac Brock – and the university’s motto – as one of our competencies. Surgite! is emblematic of both the resilience of our students and the active language of our 10 competencies.
- Apply Knowledge
- Think Critically
- Act Innovatively
- Communicate Effectively
- Know Yourself
- Collaborate Effectively
- Be Curious
- Engage with Your Community
- Practice Intercultural Fluency
We knew that we could not advance with our competency framework in isolation from the population we were aiming to serve; we needed to invite our students to the table. We reached across campus to form small focus groups to understand how our students perceived and interpreted the draft competencies, and the connections they made to their own learning experiences and career readiness.
We asked students to assess how relevant the competencies were to their experiences. We then asked them to indicate how relevant they believed the competencies would be in their post-graduation career path. Our findings mirrored our research: students believed that the career-readiness competencies are of limited importance to their student life, but of significant importance once they graduate. How, then, could we introduce students to these concepts early, often and impactfully to prepare them for success post-graduation?
To understand how our competencies aligned to the student experience, we asked students to describe key learning moments where they demonstrated or strengthened one of the 10 competencies. When given simple reflective prompts, students were immediately able to draw clear connections between experiences and their skill and competency development. “This makes me realize that I think critically far more often than I thought I did,” one fourth-year student remarked. When asked to reframe their thinking, students were able to effectively translate their competencies into a career mindset.
Bolstered by student feedback, we brought our findings to the Advisory Committee and began the final revision and approval process.
In 2019, we began the process of integrating the Brock Competencies into all CCEE programming. Our competencies have become an integral part of Brock’s career curriculum, appearing in workshop content and in-class presentations, online career resources and co-curricular programming. At every career touchpoint, our students are introduced to the concept of skills translation and provided opportunities to further understand, develop and strengthen their career-readiness competencies. When asked what motivated them to begin their job search, one Brock student cited the competencies, saying, “Reviewing the competencies every single week got me more and more confidence in myself. And now I know I am ready to take the next step of my job search.” Our framework is introduced to our co-op students early and often, from first-year orientation programming to the conclusion of their final work term.
What makes a Brock student unique?
Our students have access to a unique array of academic pathways and experiential opportunities. The Brock Competencies and Skills Translation Project has created a framework for students to leverage these experiences as opportunities for development and reflection. A next step for our project is to further strengthen the connection between a student’s academic experience and their career development using the Brock Competencies as a common language. Work has begun on the development of faculty-specific competencies in alignment with the original 10. Our framework helps students understand and articulate how their Brock education – and their combination of knowledge, skills and attributes – has set them apart and prepared them for success navigating their career journey.
Laura Fyfe is a career professional with a background in labour market research and a passion for lifelong learning. As Skills Translation Co-ordinator in the department of Co-op, Career & Experiential Education at Brock University, Fyfe facilitates meaningful connections between skills, education and the ever-evolving labour market. Fyfe has been at the forefront of developing Brock’s campus-wide career competencies framework.
University of Victoria Co-operative Education Program & Career Services. (2018, November 28). 10 Core Competencies. uvic.ca/coopandcareer/career/build-skills/core/index.php
National Association of Colleges and Employers. Career Readiness Defined. (2018, November 28). naceweb.org/careerreadiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2015). CAS learning and development outcomes. In J.B. Wells (Ed.), CAS professional standards for higher education (9th ed.). Washington, DC.
Lennon, M.C., Frank, B., Humphreys, J., Lenton, R., Madsen, K., Omri, A., & Turner, R. (2014). Tuning: identifying and measuring sector-based learning outcomes in postsecondary education. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.