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Okanagan College joins post-secondary partners in research project to bridge essential skills gap

Okanagan College Media Release

Okanagan College is joining eight B.C. post-secondary institutions in a project intended to bolster student success.

The Skills Bridge research project is an initiative aiming to measure the impact of additional essential skills training on student outcomes.

According to a 2013 OECD study, an estimated 40 per cent of Canadians lack the skills essential for optimal success in work and learning. These skills include reading, writing, numeracy (math skills), managing information, problem solving, working with others, technical skills and oral communication.

In the workplace, skills deficits can lead to stalled careers and decreased productivity. In the classroom, students with lower skill levels are at greater risk of dropping out or being driven to remedial education.

“Most of us have some kind of challenge, for example writing or math, and we’d benefit from acquiring strategies to build our abilities and confidence,” said Dr. Peter Wilkins, Faculty Research Liaison at Douglas College. “We are investigating skills development as a performance enhancement technique for students at all levels – for ‘B’ students who’d like to get ‘A’s,’ as well as those with more significant skills gaps.”

Skills training is an established tool for improving performance in the workplace. Finding the optimal way to integrate it into the classroom is the focus of the Skills Bridge project. Ultimately, the goal is to help learners reach higher levels of success in their studies and in the all-important school-to-work transition.

“Where skills deficits have the greatest impact is when our life course changes,” said Wilkins. “The reality is that all of us are challenged by any change in context, for example the move from high school to college, the transition from college to the workplace, and then throughout our careers as we change jobs. People lacking in essential skills don’t have the coping strategies to handle transitions successfully.”

At Okanagan College’s Vernon campus, Skills Bridge research project volunteers in the Human Service Work program and in the plumbing trades are being offered the opportunity to have their essential skills levels assessed. Based on the results of the assessment, students receive customized skills training provided by a dedicated skills coach.

“Adding additional skills training into the curriculum is a way for students to get to a higher level,” said Okanagan College Program Coordinator, Jennifer Hamilton. “And it’s an opportunity for the College to provide support, service and better value to our learners.”

A pilot project conducted across Canada from 2010 to 2013 by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) showed clear benefits of skills training in a variety of college health care and trades programs, with students often scoring significantly better in assessments conducted at the end of the project.

The ACCC is now working on developing a national framework to bring essential skills training more widely to Canadian college students who are typically in programs preparing them specifically for the workplace.

Over 300 students throughout the province are expected to participate in the Skills Bridge project that is running through the end of June 2014. The project is being funded by the nine participating post-secondary institutions.

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