Organization leads students toward work with innovation skills

TalNET provides a structured path from school to employment.
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A networking system is addressing the region’s talent shortage at a very early age.

Talent Innovation Network for West Michigan (TalNET) is a networking system that focuses on improving the quality of career decisions in education, training and job selection based on five innovation components: SkillSense, CareerPoint, JobSync, HireReach and IncludeAll.

The first component, SkillSense, is being implemented in students as early as kindergarten and focuses on social and emotional skills.

SkillSense specifies 12 foundational skills that are deemed important for K-12 students: communication, participation, good choices, teamwork, achievements, responsibility, reasoning, time management, tech management, decisiveness, adaptability and innovation. Each element is progressive and designed to complement a specific grade level when they are intentionally taught by teachers and practiced by students over time.

Jason Pasatta, director of instructional services for Ottawa Area ISD, said those elements originated from he and his team’s collaboration with employers who identified specific skills they would like employees to have.

Pasatta acknowledged that many schools have programs in place that utilize different resources involving social and emotional skills.

He said SkillSense provides a framework educators can follow to be included in the curriculum at different age levels, so students develop those skills over time and they are reinforced from level to level.

To make that somewhat easier for teachers to introduce elements of SkillSense, Pasatta established a pilot program two years ago in seven school districts, including Grand Haven Area Public Schools and Zeeland Public Schools. He said some districts are working with SkillSense as it corresponds to grade levels in elementary schools or middle schools, while others are teaching some of those skills at a specific grade level.

Pasatta said the goal is to continue the pilot program for the next year, but as it is being implemented, he is learning from it. 

“Students are in all sorts of different contexts, neighborhoods,” he said. “There are different settings, from rural to suburban to urban areas. The school districts that exist within different contexts are all different. They have different pressures, different things that they are dealing with, different strengths and having a one size fits all sort of approach to the work probably doesn’t make sense, especially when you are trying to align systems where we are all speaking the same language and we want to have the same terms. We are not saying that this going to be a structured curriculum that we want everyone to implement and do it a certain way. It will be more of a framework where you can apply to what you are currently doing that, hopefully, you’ll have a little more flexibility in how it is being implemented from schools to schools or districts to districts.”

Nevertheless, there is a clear goal of how SkillSense is meant to guide students in their life and career decisions after they graduate from high school.

“First and foremost, I hope they have these skills that will honestly allow them to excel in post-secondary education and any jobs they would like to pursue, but I also hope that they realize that through this process that they might have strengths and skills that may align with different career industries,” he said. “So, if I am really good at things like innovation, (or) I am really good at time management and decisiveness, those are different (skills) that they might want to think about and see whether that might apply to engineering or health care or the service industry, or something else that might lend itself to the skills that they are naturally good at.”

CareerPoint helps high school graduates determine career options and how to pursue them. It is designed for employers, educators and job placement professionals to work with individuals to identify their skills and abilities that will lead them to jobs that are suitable for them. CareerPoint uses seven steps to help potential employees: intake, coaching, support, learning, credentials, profiles and placement.

The intake step connects individuals to career pathways. The coaching step helps individuals make informed career choices after advancing through four stages, which include self-awareness, option exploration, decision-making and action planning.

The third step is helping individuals find financial support and other wrap-around services to support their career choice. The learning step links individuals to education, training and work-based learning. In order to get employment, some employers would like employees to have such credentials as certificates, degrees, certifications and/or licenses. TalNET helps individuals to develop a profile that outlines skills and potential employers. The final step is placement, which involves employer discussions with employees about hiring.

JobSync helps individuals identify and understand what jobs or careers are in demand within the West Michigan region.

The next step, HireReach, involves employers using better practices such as data and metrics to find the right employees.

“People keep doing the same old thing,” said Bill Guest, senior consultant for TalNET. “They are skimming resumes or using software to automatically skim resumes and interviewing people and them sending them off to a hiring manager who does the final interviews and not using anything that is statistically valid in all of that. People making individual judgments and data would say that those judgments are fairly random. The old method of skimming resumes and doing face-to-face interviews without other tools is not very reliable at all.”

Another hinderance that Guest said might prevent employers from finding the right employee is over-specification of job qualifications.

“Post-secondary education is really important, some level of training is important, but confusion gets created around college for all,” he said. “It gets interpreted as a bachelor’s degree for all, and a bachelor’s degree for all is not a positive for society. That is creating a barrier that cuts some people out. If we are trying to be more inclusive and help everyone get to their optimal place, over-specifying a job by asking for a bachelor’s degree when you don’t need a bachelor’s degree is a negative and that is hurting everyone. If an employer is over-specifying a job, they are missing out on some really good candidates. They aren’t just hurting the candidates that don’t get in, they are hurting themselves because they are not getting access to the best candidates.”

To change the way employers select their next employee, TalNET has established HireReach Academy, which has helped 34 employers so far. Four employers are currently enrolled in the fall academy.

It’s a virtual five-month academy that combines a series of learning modules and activities with tools and courses, peer learning and consulting support. Following completion of the academy, organizations should be able to establish a custom evidence-based selection framework, which includes jobs, selection tools, data and outcomes.

Some of the selection tools include cognitive assessments, personality assessments, career interest assessments, online reference checks and structured interview guides.

“Using assessments and other tools such as cognitive assessment where you measure people’s general mental ability; personality assessments where you look at the big five dimension of personalities and the different facilities of that,” Guest said. “There is a career interest assessment that talks about what kind of work interest people, engages people and not just the whole job but the individual tasks. What kinds of things people like to do, because you can find people that have the ability to do the work and the personality to do the work and that is a good fit and it is interesting to them. Those kinds of measures are really good at helping to predict who would be the best performer for the job.”

The final segment is IncludeAll, which is based on diversity and inclusion strategies and leadership competencies.

While TalNET has outlined innovations that may take years to implement and come to fruition for individuals who are finding a career and want to land employment, it all starts with SkillSense, Pasatta said.

“The idea with SkillSense is that in the future, after they’ve graduated from grade 12, hopefully, we have an aligned system where the other side of town can pick up where we left off, so individuals are going through the career coaching module, they are utilizing the same skills to help them assess what careers are open in the area and utilize those skills and get them the education they need to get to wherever they want to be in the future,” he said. “It is all about having an interconnected system where SkillSense is the upfront innovation leading into the other ones.”

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