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#TeeUpTheSkills Kicks off at the University of Maine: What did we learn?

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Local hiring managers map out their hiring process at a #TeeUpTheSkills design session

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The first stop on our #TeeUpTheSkills tour was a place with an urgent need for employer-driven 21st Century Skills credentials: Bangor, Maine. When we engaged with employers, it became immediately clear that they were struggling to identify candidates with professional skills needed to be successful in entry level jobs.

Conversely, when we met with students, we found that they were struggling to find ways to develop and display 21st Century skills like oral communication, empathy, etc. on their resumes. In our design session, we asked students to go and stand next to the 21st Century competencies that students feel they’re developing most through their studies at the university. An overwhelming number of them headed to the critical thinking poster, while almost none chose initiative, intercultural fluency, empathy or resilience. Is this another case of a language or perception gap? Or are students really not being exposed to these skills in their coursework?

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During the design sessions, students were able to better understand the sub-competencies, and were able to pull examples of these skills from their daily lives. One student said they practice ‘learn from failure’ when they’re baking–a core sub-competency of initiative and resilience. Another student said that watching certain shows on Netflix actually helps them develop empathy.

While there are certainly more meaningful experiences that develop skills like initiative, resilience, and empathy, the design session with students led us to this question:

Does it matter to employers where students acquired these skills as long as they can demonstrate them?

With two of UMaine’s largest employers in the room, we tested this assumption. 4 out of 5 employers rated an internship as the most important experience for students in the hiring process. Consistently, writing assignments and theses ranked last on employer’s lists.

The goal with the #TeeUpTheSkills cohort is to confirm the assumption that it doesn’t matter where students acquire skills as long as they have them and can display them. Do students with badges perform better in entry-level roles? Are the badges themselves more effective when earned inside or outside of the classroom? How do students who have earned the badges sell themselves differently?