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Labor Panel Report on Job Skills Designed To Aid Educators

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WASHINGTON A Labor Department panel making final revisions to its two-year report on changing skill demands for workers is preparing to release a 500-page supplementary report meant to grab the attention of teachers, curriculum officials, and counselors.

The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills will not publish its final report until late next month. But its message to educators will be spelled out earlier with the expected release this month of a companion volume, "Skills and Tasks for Jobs," which not only explains the new skills the commission has defined but also details how they are related to specific jobs and can be conveyed in classrooms.

"These skills can be taught in a range of courses, from art and music to science and mathematics," the report says.

The goal of the document, it adds, is "to help educators make highschool courses more relevant to the needs of a modern workforce and to help employers ensure that their employees possess appropriate, up-to-date skills."

The report is based in part on extensive interviews with 142 job experts, who examined the skills defined by the SCANs panel. The group of experts rated teamwork, time management, and interacting with customers as the most critical skills across 35 occupations studied.

Critics have argued that the SCANs panel has presented a slate of abstract skills that, by themselves, are hard to connect to teaching. The upcoming report is an attempt to draw a more concrete link to education.

Time Management Emphasized

The report takes its recommendation for "time allocation" skills, for example, and suggests they can be included in high-school mathematics courses by posing various scheduling problems to students.

The report suggests asking students to estimate the time needed to complete a job, to organize the job by tasks and deadlines, and then to study options, including doing the work in a parallel series or in sequence, rearranging the order of the tasks, or changing the resources. After considering the options, the student is asked to explain what is most time-efficient.

"In each case, the teacher showed a relationship between the importance of mathematics to mastering the task of time allocation and the importance of this competency in the world of work," the report notes.

Such knowledge is ranked as highly or extremely critical in jobs ranging from medical assistant to computer operator to insurance underwriter, the document indicates.

The report describes how the SCANs skills are used in various occupations. It also singles out jobs and ranks the chief skills for each.

For example, to educators who may have had trouble understanding the commission's emphasis on students' ability to "improve and design systems," the report explains how workers such as a graphics designer or a supervisor of blue-collar employees may be expected to suggest service improvements, consult with others, and recommend and defend changes.

In addition, the report explains how a dietary manager could be expected to compare nutritional screening programs at similar work sites, propose modifications to management, negotiate final changes, train workers in the new program, and evaluate its effectiveness.

Sponsors of the report hope that school counselors will use it as a guide to assist students interested in particular careers to understand what will be expected. A construction contractor, for example, should be able to prioritize construction tasks, determine and follow a budget, prepare a cash-flow forecast, allocate material, and delegate responsibility.

The report urges educators to consider how such skills can be incorporated into high-school classrooms.

"This kind of information is especially vital today, when more than half of our young people leave school without the basic skills required to find and hold a good job," the report adds.

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