My Project Rationale – Why ‘transferable skills?’

Today (02.02.15) I searched Google for the term ‘transferable skills’ and it produced 1, 870,000 responses. I then searched for the term ‘employability skills’ and it presented 2, 410,000 references. To add to the overload and confusion, the two terms are used inconsistently and very much interchangeable depending upon who authors it. Thankfully, the impetus for this project is not about looking to Google (for I would not have time to cover all 4, 280, 000 secondary sources out there) for any answers to my transferable skills conundrum but about seeking practical solutions to my problematic within the context of my specific professional setting. Impact is primarily sought for my students and my own practice although I do hope that impact of this tale will benefit the wider community of colleagues confronted with a similar pedagogic burden. I think about transferable or employability skills as generic skills that are applicable and relevant to a range of job roles and across diverse sectors. I should also add that I prefer to use the term ‘transferable’ over ‘employability’ as the former suggests universality, fluidity, mobility, and geographical autonomy, a sense of something unfinished and continuous. Therefore I would argue it feels more empowering than ‘employability,’ which to me feels dated, hierarchal, stuck, subjugated to a level of survival. I think of the infamous Yosser Hughes, ‘Gizza job’ scene in Boys from the Blackstuff where simply getting a job is an act of desperation, survival and I think or hope it should mean more.

I followed up a few of the leads (as I like to call them) Google had to offer on ‘transferable skills’ and I present them below.

Lead 1 To start, the National Careers Service https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/Pages/transferableskills.aspx identifies the following as core ‘transferable skills:’

  • problem solving
  • organising
  • working to deadlines
  • management and leadership
  • negotiating
  • motivating people
  • making decisions
  • research skills

As this is a government and governed website (gov.uk) it seems an obvious starting point for someone in education (like me) to begin.

Lead 2 I then stumbled upon an article in About.com, http://careerplanning.about.com/od/careerchoicechan/a/trans_skills_ex.htm where Dawn Rosenberg McKay (2015) extends the list identified above to skills in assessment, presentation, repairing and coaching:

  • Delegate responsibility
  • Motivate others
  • Attend to visual detail
  • Assess and evaluate my own work
  • Assess and evaluate others’ work
  • Deal with obstacles and crises
  • Multi-task
  • Present written material
  • Present material orally
  • Manage time
  • Repair equipment or machinery
  • Keep records
  • Handle complaints
  • Coordinate fundraising activities
  • Coach
  • Research
  • Build or construct
  • Design buildings, furniture, etc.
  • Manage finances

Lead 3 On the Exeter University website they reference Stemnet (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Network) who have produced a grid to reiterate what they consider the foundations of employability skills: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/ambassadors/HESTEM/resources/General/STEMNET%20Employability%20skills%20guide.pdf This project (and associated companion, ‘An Autoethnographer’s Tale’) represents my attempt to gain clarity within this area in relation to my subject or more aptly, as McDougall (2006, p. 1) identifies ‘subject media,’ a term of reference I will adopt here for clarity. I have been teaching subject media in the FE sector for 12 years now and I am all too familiar with the buzz term ‘transferable skills.’ It is part of educational rhetoric yet I have never had any formal training on either the meaning, identification or application of them specific to subject media. To date, it is not part of my contractual remit to actively map transferable skills nor is it built into the BTEC curriculum I teach yet they remain top of the employment agenda. So where does that leave me and my planning each academic year as I negotiate pedagogic strategies whilst meandering through the curriculum and the realities of the 21st century workplace? This is a key question I constantly struggle with in a role where time itself has become a valuable resource. Leads 1 and 2 offer keywords that differ. Lead 2 is more extensive and specific but even if we look at the more basic descriptors suggested in Lead 1, how do we ‘motivate people’ and ‘problem solve?’ At what points are such skills evident and documented in practice? More importantly how aware and capable are the students in tracking transferable skills accrued? Lead 3 goes further and provides definitions and examples however the grid relates predominately to science, technology and design. I am a media teacher. I want something media specific and that is what ‘An Autoethnographer’s Tale’ is about. Through my project, I hope to (collaboratively with my students) devise a tool or app to walk alongside students as they progress throughout their course, a tool that will make explicit their transferable skills and better prepare them for a working world where adaptability, multiskilling and continuous skills development will feature as central to any successful career pathway as the 21st century global economy continues to unfold. My own understanding on the meaning of the term ‘transferable skills’ is largely based on my a priori experiences and sense of self (e.g. innate skills developed as a child and as a teenager through relationships formed, educational influences, extending to specific personal circumstance and culture). Also, I can reflect on my own employment history after leaving university and think about the skills accrued in the media sector and how they were transferable to the education sector (e.g. communication, administration, attention to detail, co-ordination and self-management to name a few). I will expand on pertinent issues relating to biography raised here at a later date, as they are critical to my approach to this project. Therefore, additional questions remain. Is understanding of what is considered ‘transferable’ a personal thing? How can my narrative be of value to others? And how effectively do my experiences and understanding of ‘transferable skills’ translate into practice(s)? Additional issues and questions continue to bother me at this point, for instance, I cannot assume that my understanding will resonate with my students understanding in 2015. Having held the same post of Media Course Leader for 12 years how can I teach transferability when my employment mobility over recent years have arguably remained stagnant?

Bibliography McDougall, J., 2006, The Media Teacher’s Book, London: Hodder Arnold.

Online Sources

About.com (2015). Available from: http://careerplanning.about.com/od/careerchoicechan/a/trans_skills_ex.htm (accessed 2 February 2015).

Exeter University. Available from: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/ambassadors/HESTEM/resources/General/STEMNET%20Employability%20skills%20guide.pdf (accessed 2 February 2015).

National Careers Service (2012). Available from: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/Pages/transferableskills.aspx (accessed 2 February 2015).

You Tube (2009). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2inSqo3Q3c (accessed 2 February 2015).

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