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Key Skills in Education and Employment


Today’s workplace is in dire need of proficient workers who possess the necessary skills for the accomplishment of competitive tasks in industrial processes. Matching key skills acquired from middle-level colleges and the world’s universities with the workforce has become the leitmotif of the 21st century. Business organisations require skilful workers to meet the ever-changing demands of dynamic markets that face both regional and global competitions.

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Essentially, key skills that are desirable for a productive workforce demand the development of sound educational systems that acquaint learners with industrial knowledge and problem-solving techniques. Therefore, the development of workforces begins at the school, precisely at the college level education. The development of key skills is a broad area that requires active participation of both business leaders and curriculum developers. Seemingly, a huge gap exists between the skills acquired by college graduates and expertise that is required in the labour market. Mostly, employers consider the experience of prospective employees. Therefore, they expect colleges to prepare graduates with adequate skills and training needs that pertain to the actual industrial work. This essay explores these key skills by explaining how they relate to college and the workforce.

Key Skills and Training

Key skills refer to educational experiences that enable students relate their studies to the workplace. Middle-level colleges, training institutes, and universities offer a wide-range of skill development models in an attempt to meet the demands of the labour market (Hunter 358). Essentially, there is a need for learning institutions to implement teaching approaches that drive learners to the acquisition of key skills. Possession of key skills not only prepares students for employment but also trains them to accomplish their career development. Employers and businesses expect learning institutions to emphasise skills that suit the workplace such as communication skills, teamwork, information technology, dedication, leadership, problem solving, social conduct, interpersonal skills, planning and organising, and/or numeracy.

Glen reveals that global employers and businesses have run into a ‘war for talent’ because of the ever-dynamic and competitive workplaces (38). Therefore, the development of rounded graduates is important for harnessing their talents in the workplace. Keys skills create self-awareness and a sense of independency for the learner, thus enabling them make informed decisions in their career lives and workplaces. As a result, learners understand the world of work and career responsibilities from their own experiences that have been accrued through improvement of individual learning and performance. Generally, the development of key skills equips graduates with standard entrant qualities that are suitable for the workplace (Glen 39).

Communication Skills

Communication is a process through which information is conveyed from one person to another through the exchange of thoughts, feelings, and verbal or non-verbal messages (Chambers and McDonald 45). The author attests that successful communication is crucial for the development of positive relationships between employers and their employees. In turn, good working relationships improve the effectiveness of task performance. Hence, they improve the level and speed of productivity. Moreover, successful communication allows the employee to accomplish individual growth and development that lead to job satisfaction. Azevedo, Apfelthaler, and Hurst categorize the communication process in three important dimensions that include effective site communication, common industry signage, and industry terminology (13).

Effective site communication pertains to the interaction of people and systems within the work environment. There is a need for employers and employees to become conscious of the way they interact with each other in the work environment. Effective communication with colleagues, customers, and/or suppliers is an important aspect in any industry as it elicits efficient systems that improve production.

The nature of communication influences the way we make contact with other people, exchange information, and solve problems (Azevedo, Apfelthaler, and Hurst 14). Failure to nurture effective communication skills during college level education leads to communication breakdown or failure in the workplace. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the college management and curriculum developers to invest in the development of good communication skills in learners in an attempt to prepare them for future employment.

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Teamwork Skills

Teamwork is a complex term that is intrinsically equivocal (Chambers and McDonald 45). The term presents the qualities of a group, rather than the personality traits of an individual. The author examines the effectiveness of a team member based on personality traits such as individual resourcefulness, candidness, ability to provide assistance, and ease of adopting positive change. The ability to work in teams is a vital key skill that applies to both employers and employees. The work environment presents a system of interdependent performance teams that contribute to the accomplishment of overall activities in the workplace.

Therefore, learning institutions need to instil relevant teamwork skills that are necessary for the industry. Colleges need to embrace innovative teaching methods to realise the development of essential generic skills that relate to the industry. The development of teamwork skills requires experimental learning that occurs in a generalised teaching environment where learners practice reflective thinking by applying their personal experiences in teams. Most employers relate the ability to work in teams alongside other key skills such as communication and information literacy. A research conducted by Van Loo and Toolsema to determine the extent of the relevance of key skills in the workplace indicated that all graduates integrally need team skills to improve their employability (208).

However, teamwork requires the incorporation of a variety of generic skills that reinforce the ability of an individual to participate actively in teamwork activities. The generic skills that necessitate successful teamwork include key skills such as communication skills, planning skills, development and implementation of strategies, conflict management, leadership and people management, and setting of aims, goals, and objectives.

According to Van Loo and Toolsema, entrant employees who hold a sensible degree of proficiency in a variety of the generic skills undertake their roles successfully within the teams (209). In an industrial context, learners require experimental learning approaches as well as teamwork theories to develop holistic skills that build on collaborative and constructivist theories of learning. The development of team skills enables learners to identify shared objectives, common goals, distinctive roles, and interdependence of tasks. Consequently, team skills enable graduates to contribute actively towards the accomplishment of performance goals and objectives. Therefore, college educators should commit their efforts to the development of teamwork. The development of these experiences is not an artless process.

Hence, trainers should devise focused objectives that can help learners appreciate the significance of effective teamwork. The purpose of effective teaching and learning also comes in effect during the development of team skills. Therefore, third-level educators should provide learners with opportunities for practice and provide meaningful feedback about the effectiveness of the skills they need to have accrued (Azevedo, Apfelthaler and Deborah 15).

Use of Information Technology and Information Literacy Skills

Information technology skills refer to the knowledge and experience about the use of computers and related technologies that people and organisations use to keep, retrieve, transfer, and control data. The workplace has dramatically shifted to the era of speedy processing and automation. New-fangled technologies emerge even before the exhaustion of the ones deployed in the workplaces. Employers relate most of the job opportunities to an individual’s professionalism (Bary and Rees 80).

Hence, the digital-age workplace is in a dreadful need of technology gurus to manage a range of standard and sophisticated technology equipment and software applications. The situation has forced employers to work together with college leaders to educate college students on both the present and the emerging technologies in an attempt to meet the demands of the workplace. The workplace has reached the digital age where individuals, colleges, and businesses have to work out their parts, if they ought to remain competitive in a vibrant digital revolution. Therefore, the acquisition of information technology skills is inevitable for many individuals, institutions, and organisations.

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There is a need for third-level educational and training institutions to review their structures technologically to prepare students for the technological world (Hunter 358). The provision of all-inclusive information technology skills for modern workplace requires colleges to develop sound educational and training facilities.

Information literacy is a term that is used in information technology that defines the ability of an individual to detect the need for information, determine the nature and quantity of information, and access, evaluate, and put information in an appropriate use. The understanding of information technology forms the heart of lifetime knowledge (Hunter 359). Educators should also equip third level students with information literacy skills to facilitate research. In the contemporary world, employers and businesses expect college graduates to have adequate knowledge about information technology. There is an emerging need for colleges to equip students with adequate and relevant information technology skills to meet the increasing demands for information literacy in the modern workplace.

In addition, the world is increasingly becoming more complex than ever before. For that reason, graduates need multifarious information literacy skills to use information sources effectively. According to Azevedo, Apfelthaler, and Hurst, information literacy is more detailed than just mere knowledge about technology and online research libraries (18). Information literacy entails the discovery of a problem, real-time acquisition of information, analysis, and the provision of pertinent solutions. Employers require competent professionals who have rounded information technology skills to serve the 21st century workplace. As a result, college librarians and instructional boffins sharpen the skills of third-level students in various colleges as a way of preparing them for the world of work.

Leadership and People Management Skills

Leadership refers to the ability of an individual to influence, socially and mutually, the views and decisions of others in a leader-follower context in an attempt to accomplish common goals and objectives (Azevedo, Apfelthaler, and Deborah 18). Leadership is a key skill that has profound implications on both the employability of an individual and management of people in organisations. Van Loo and Toolsema review leadership development under two different dimensions (211).

The first dimension focuses on individual leader (human capital) development where people assume leadership roles based on individual abilities. The second dimension focuses on leadership development where development of leadership skills takes into account the social capital. Therefore, development of leadership skills in third-level educational institutions should follow the human capital and social capital dimensions for instilling well-rounded leadership skills in learners. Generally, leadership development is a process that develops on shared objectives and interactive relationships. Third-level education is important for proliferation of leadership development concepts (Hunter 359).

College educators should instil leadership skills to learners through learning activities such as mentoring, training, and action learning. Development of leadership skills through mentoring and training learners in third-level institutions is necessary for the growth of learners. Leadership skills also enable learners to develop their careers whilst accruing competent experiences for future employment requirements. According to Van Loo and Toolsema, leadership is a composite art that requires nonconventional means of training (217).

The author emphasises that the acquisition of effective leadership skills demands active participation in activities such as problem-solving exercises, and presentation of personal experiences through practice. The present gap of leadership skills in many organisations is due to flawed education systems that deliver more theory than rehearsal to learners, especially third-level students. Educators should make the college a place to develop wee-rounded individuals who have clear vision for the success of their career goals and objectives (Glen 44). The acquisition of leadership skills is entirely an influential process that educators should design appropriately to produce factual modifications of students’ behaviour. Glen defines three qualities of a leader that employers consider the most important during the recruitment of graduate entrants (45).

First, employers require individuals who have the drive to execute and accomplish tasks with a view of producing change where necessary. Secondly, industrial leadership requires graduates to gain the ability to relate with individuals, groups, and organisations to produce meaningful impact on the people they (graduates) want to influence. Lastly, employers seek integrity in prospective employees because they will be dependent on the followers they will lead in the organisations. Therefore, third-level education should mould learners into visionary leaders who can lead teams with integrity and self-confidence. Every employer requires employees who establish clear goals that relate problems with probable solutions and/or the creation of new opportunities. Therefore, third level educators have a task of measuring the progress of the acquisition of leadership skills throughout the schooling life of the learner (Van Loo and Toolsema 220).

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Relevance of Key Skills to the Electrical Engineering Employment

There is an inevitably increasing need to incorporate key skills in engineering courses to instil confidence in students (Bary and Rees 73). The aforementioned key skills are crucial for an entrant in electrical engineering employment. In addition to good academic qualifications, the electrical engineering industry requires competitive job entrants who possess a range of key skills. Perhaps, effective communication is the most important key skill in engineering employment. Electrical engineering graduates need to acquire effective communication skills that will enable them develop good working relationships with their employers and colleagues at work. Specifically, individuals who attain the position of line managers or team leaders in electrical engineering firms require excellent key skills for effective management in the workplace.

Effective communication skills form part of every aspect of electrical engineering activities. In a survey conducted by Bary and Rees to investigate the relevance of communication skills in engineering courses, more than 60-percent of the electrical engineers suggested that efficient communication skills are important for the successfulness of engineering activities in the workplace, with 95-percent listing the skill as the most essential. The authors also suggest that curriculum designers and educators should overtly incorporate communication in engineering pedagogy (Bary and Rees 75). Effective electrical engineering communication is essential for the knowledge about suitable industry terminologies in electrical engineering. In addition, the new entrants understand the use of common industry signage. Investment of key communication skills in students builds confidence in them, which prepares them for challenges in the employment sector.

Teamwork skills are necessary for electrical engineering professionals. Employers and businesses need entrants who have acquired adept teamwork skills through training. Azevedo, Apfelthaler, and Deborah reveal that formidable situations in engineering industries prompt new electrical engineering employees to use teamwork skills to seek relevant solutions (19). Engineering teamwork skills encompass multifarious generic skills such as planning, managing change, corrective measures, articulation of engineering communication, managing risks, and ensuring ultimate team support. Third-level educational institutions need to embrace a pragmatic approach towards the provision of teamwork skills for electrical engineering learners to prepare them adequately for the electrical workplace.

Graduates have to possess proficient teamwork skills for resourceful and industrious functioning. In addition, there is a need for graduates to possess information technology skills. The electrical engineering industry has shifted to a digital age, which requires skilful workforce in information technology (Bary and Rees 78). Third-level schools need to hire professional instructors to guide and evaluate the entire process of instilling information technology skills in learners. Bary and Rees reveal that most third-level schools hire incompetent instructors, a situation that leads to the development of half-baked key skills in key areas such as electrical engineering (79).

Incompetence in engineering key skills lowers the employability level of a prospective job candidate since employers recruit entrants who possess competent key skills. Lastly, employers require new job entrants to possess competent leadership and team management skills. The engineering industry has a variety of management functions that demand both academic knowledge and leadership skills. The multiplicity of technical activities in the electrical engineering industry requires good leaders to lead individuals and teams through tough engineering decisions and practices.


The rise of technology, worldwide competition, information-based industries, and the ‘war for talent’ has led to the existence of enormous skill gaps, especially in the engineering industry. There is adequate evidence that colleges have produced a pool of graduates who possess inadequate key skills. The situation has left many employers with unanswered questions about the dependability of these graduates on the ultimate accomplishment of tasks in the workplace.

In addition, the labour market has increasingly become more competitive than ever before. Consequently, businesses require proficient knowledge in both technical and key skills to thrive in increasingly competitive markets. Therefore, it is time for third-level educational institutions to invest in the development of key skills for the success of graduates. Industry leaders should liaise with instructors and curriculum developers to devise a vocational-based curriculum that has the provision for training of key skills for various vocational disciplines. Specifically, rigorous training of key skills in third-level institutions of learning will enable the production of confident and skilful graduates who can be ready for accomplishment of industrial goals and objectives.

Works Cited

Azevedo, Ana, Gerhard Apfelthaler, and Deborah Hurst. “Competency development in business graduates: An industry-driven approach for examining the alignment of undergraduate business education with industry requirements.” International Journal of Management Education 10.1(2012): 12-28. Print.

Bary, Raphael, and Michael Rees. “Is (self-directed) learning the key skill for tomorrow’s engineers?” European Journal of Engineering Education 31.1(2006): 73-81. Print.

Chambers, Richard, and Paul McDonald. “Cultivating soft skills: nontechnical, qualitative attributes should be developed throughout every step of the audit recruitment, retention, and talent development life cycle.” Internal Auditor 70.3(2013): 45. Print.

Glen, Clayton. “Key skills retention and motivation: the war for talent still rages and retention is the high ground.” Industrial and Commercial Training 38.1(2006): 37-45. Print.

Hunter, Bob. “The role of Learning Support in the development and implementation of a key skills programme and an intranet to support it.” Electronic Library 15.5 (1997): 357-62. Print.

Van Loo, Jasper, and Bert Toolsema. “The empirical determination of key skills from an economic perspective.” Education Economics 13.2(2005): 207-21. Print.

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