Occupational Standards

Smith (1996) called for restructuring adult vocational education and workplace literacy programs to demand the establishment of a national system of world-class occupational skills standards. States such as Georgia (Georgia State Department of Technical and Adult Education, 1989), Ohio (Phillipi, 1995; Ohio State Department of Education, Division of Vocational and Adult Education, 1995), and Illinois (Illinois Occupational Skills Standards and Credentialing Council [IOSSCC], 1997) developed or are developing occupational standards. Georgia took national leadership in this area in the late 80's and early 90's. Ohio developed Occupational Competency Analysis Profiles for various employment areas, e.g., masonry (Ohio State Department of Education, 1995). Moving beyond these standards, a Workforce 2000 Partnership project developed curricula for the textile, apparel, and carpet industries in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina (Steck, 1996). The curriculum development process used by this network of industries and educational institutions provided training in communication, computation, and creative thinking.

In Illinois, job-specific occupational standards are being developed by various susbcouncils in 13 areas (IOSSCC, 1997). The occupational areas include Manufacturing, Health and Social Services, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hospitality, Business and Administrative/Information Services, Transportation and Marketing and Retail Trades, among others. The first standards to be developed and printed were for nursing, forestry, and landscape technician. As of 1999, standards for 16 areas had been printed with another 70-100 to be completed (Laferty, 1999).

These standards are comprehensive for given occupations; thus, they are most appropriate for vocational schools, community colleges, and universities who are developing a series of courses to prepare learners for these occupations. In most cases preparing learners to meet these standards is beyond the scope of adult basic education programs. However, these standards could effectively be used as a tool for adult literacy personnel interested in developing short courses that provide learners with introductions to these various occupations. Occupations of focus for the Illinois Occupational Standards that appear particularly promising for this type of short course are Landscape Technician, Floristry, Greenhouse/Nursery, Restaurant and Food Services, and several occupations in the area of Marketing and Retail Trades.

The Occupational Standards as developed by Illinois do not generally speak to those areas of employment where adult learners with low skills levels are most likely to gain employment: Cashier, Waiter/Waitress, Custodial/Grounds, Salespersons (e.g., at Wal-Mart, Penneys, etc.). However, adult literacy program personnel interested in developing a course in one of these employment areas may find reviewing related state occupational standards helpful in setting up the framework for their courses.