The Definition of Basic Skills. Just as the definitions of workplace and workforce are blurring and thus becoming more inclusive and comprehensive, the definition of what is basic to workplace/workforce skills is also becoming more comprehensive. In the report of the Secretary�s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS, 1991), a foundation in the basics was defined to include the 3 R�s, thinking skills, and personal skills. Similarly, a much-cited list compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor and the American Society for Training and Development considers the following as basic skills:

  • Knowing how to learn
  • Reading, writing, and computation
  • Listening and oral communication
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving
  • Self-esteem, goal setting/motivation, and personal/career development
  • Interpersonal skills, negotiation, and teamwork
  • Organizational effectiveness and leadership (Carnevale et al., 1988, p. 9).

[Note: Reading, writing, and computation (one perception of basic skills) is only one point in this listing.]

Finally, the Illinois Workplace Skills listing, provided in each of the state�s Occupational Skills Standards booklets, e.g., the one for landscape technicians (Ethridge, 1997), posits an even more comprehensive definition of basic skills intrinsic to the workplace. This 90-item listing includes 3-12 competencies in each of 12 areas:

  • Seeking and Applying for Employment Opportunities
  • Accepting Employment
  • Communicating on the Job
  • Interpreting the Economics of Work
  • Maintaining Professionalism
  • Adapting and Coping with Change
  • Solving Problems and Critical Thinking
  • Maintaining a Safe and Healthy Work Environment
  • Demonstrating Work Ethics and Behavior
  • Demonstrating Technological Literacy
  • Maintaining Personal Relationships
  • Demonstrating Teamwork

[Note: Basic reading and writing skills, what many think of when defining basic skills, is just one segment of the Communicating on the Job area.]

Soft skills and hard skills. It is important for those seeking employment and better employment opportunities to understand the difference between soft skills for employment (behaviors) and hard skills for employment (content knowledge and process knowledge). Soft skills include risk-taking, decision-making, self-evaluating, and seeing multiple points of view while hard skills include such abilities as being able to read and write a technical manual or report and knowing how to use various kinds of technology.

Academic skills vs. Personal skills. Workplace skills can also be viewed in terms of being academic or personal. The following academic workplace skills (IOSSCC, 1997) might be integrated into either a basic or advanced job-preparedness course: communicating on the job, solving problems and critical thinking, and demonstrating technological literacy. These skill areas include communicating orally, preparing written communication, following oral and written directions, identifying problems and evaluating options, setting priorities, and demonstrating keyboarding and other computing skills. With technology becoming more important in the home and in the workplace, an adult literacy program might develop one or more technology-based courses to focus on word processing, using the Internet to find out job market information, using a data base, using CD-ROM technology, and using desktop publishing technology. Turner (1995) provides an overview of the use of technology in adult literacy programs and urges practitioners to provide leadership in determining the future of technology in the adult literacy field.

Personal workplace skills, e.g., maintaining personal relationships and demonstrating teamwork, could also be integrated into either a basic or more advanced job-preparedness course. Discussion and activities might revolve around such issues as responding to praise and criticism, resolving conflicts, working with team members, and evaluating outcomes of team tasks. The importance of these skills in any job preparedness course cannot be over-emphasized. Getting a job is only the first step. Workers must keep and advance in their jobs. In a nationwide study of business, labor unions and educational institutions, DeMoss (1995) found that 90% of the people who had been fired were discharged because of poor attitudes, inappropriate behavior, and difficulties with interpersonal relations, not because of deficiencies in job skills (as reported in Hampson, Paul, & Patrick-Williams, 1999).

To help adults build both soft skills and hard skills, adult literacy programs have found success with such programs as "Making Work Pay" (Baker & Hack, 1999). "Making Work Pay" is an intensive three-four week course to prepare adults to become more employable. Central to the program are (1) helping adults become a learning community through teamwork activities and (2) building self-esteem through use of technology. In a recent three-week implementation of this program, participants, most with minimal computer skills, developed their resumes using a hyperstudio program and credited the employment they were able to find to being able to provide their resumes in the hyperstudio format..

To assist those who are teaching job preparedness courses, a number of general workplace curricula have been developed under P.R.I.D.E. People Retraining for Industry Excellence. They include decoding the facts in complex materials (Burt, 1993), writing clear directions (Burt, 1995), better memo writing (Lewandowski, 1995), problem solving (Pollack, 1995), math refresher and statistical process control (Meier, 1995), math on the job (Meier, 1995), and math for quality control (Meier, 1995). Similarly, Getting Along with Others (Newell & Others, 1994) focuses on changing relationships with co-workers and employers, using newspaper and advice-column formats. A COABE Intensive Grant Project, Teaching Effective Workplace Communication, is available on the Internet at Lessons on "Who am I?" (personal awareness), "Who are you? (interpersonal skills), and "Who are we?" (teamwork skills) can be downloaded for classroom use (Hampton, Paul, & Patrick-Williams, 1999). To help educators judge the quality of the variety of workplace materials now on the market, the Workplace Literacy Product Checklist was designed by nationally recognized workplace literacy professionals, business people, and union representatives (National Alliance of Business, 1995).