Transferable skills

Teaching strategies

Transferable skills in primary and high schools teaching programs

How to teach it. What is it? Why teach it?

Transferable skills – generic skills that can be learnt in one context and used in another (such as IT skills and leadership skills).

A image of a education support worker and two students having a group discussion.

Transferable skills are those skills that can be used in multiple contexts. They are sometimes referred to as ‘generic skills’ or ‘employability skills’. Depending on the skill, they can be naturally developed through the course of learning (embedded), explicitly taught as the focus of a standalone activity or program, or a combination of both. Probably the most common transferrable skills that teachers emphasise are organisational skills. Teachers are always encouraging students to bring the correct books, remember their homework, plan and stick to a schedule in order to finish an assignment, arrive early to class, neatly pack away toys and games, and so forth. Such organisational skills are taught in the classroom from k-12 and are very useful in the work environment as well.

Good practice is to identify transferable skills as part of the planning process so that there is a combined focus – killing 2 birds with 1 stone, as they say.

Anyone who is successful in their career invariably has a high level of organisational skills. It is a highly valued and useful skill and employers simply don’t care where those skills were initially developed. This is why transferable skills are so often a key part of the conversation: they are extraordinarily valuable, linked to educational and career success, already embedded in most programs anyway, and they help to produce well-rounded graduates ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

There has been a concerted push in recent decades for teachers to include transferable skills as part of their programs.i The tertiary and vocational sectors have enshrined transferable skills in their policies and regulations for some time. They go by various names such as ‘desirable graduate traits’ or ‘employability skills’. Schools sometimes choose a transferable skill for their motto.

Broadly speaking there are 3 types of transferable skills:

  • Type 1 – these are broad personality traits such as dependability, honesty, trustworthiness and punctuality. Some aspects of emotional IQ fall into this category (including the ability to control emotions when dealing with frustration, rejection and failure). These personality traits are the most difficult to teach.
  • Type 2 – these are broad social skills such as negotiation, making friends and supporting others. In the workplace, these skills translate into negotiating contracts or sales, networking and managing customer complaints. These traits are easier to develop than type 1 transferable skills, but they still present challenges. Some of these skills are taught in specialised training programs such as business courses.
  • Type 3 – these are specific skills related to a task, such as fixing a computer, typing, and various metacognitive, artistic, research and writing skills. You can think of type 3 transferable skills as skills that ‘come in handy’. Educators are the most interested in type 3 transferable skills because they are the easiest to teach, they are measurable, and they represent the most value for employers. Teachers can use incidental or explicit teaching strategies to help learners develop and master type 3 transferable skills. Micro-credentials (short courses) are geared towards type 3 in most cases.

Type 1 and 2 skills are known as ‘soft skills’; these are difficult to teach and even harder (if not impossible) to measure. Type 3 skills are known as ‘hard skills’. These are relatively easy to teach and measure, especially in comparison to type 1. For example, assessing trustworthiness requires a high degree of subjectivity, whereas assessing typing speed can be done with a simple calculation.

Type 3 skills are highly valued by employers and they help job applicants to set themselves apart from the crowd. There are 4 primary reasons for this:

  1. Anyone can add soft skills to their resume, but they are extremely expensive and difficult to test.
  2. Many people don’t even realise that they have well-developed soft skills and consequentially they don’t list them on their resume. For example, people who are really good at organising events probably think everyone is good at organising events.
  3. Hard skills can be tested so applicants are less likely to lie about them: someone who claims to have a typing speed of 90 words per minute is more than likely quick at typing even if they can’t quite reach 90 – a short test can reveal if this claim is reasonable. On the other hand, claims such as a ‘high level of organisational skills’ could mean anything and there is no way of verifying them other than asking previous employers (who for legal reasons very rarely say anything negative about exiting staff).
  4. Employers see hard skills as ‘freebies’. They get a new staff member as well as an expert at something that may come in handy – at no additional cost. For example, an admin assistant who can easily mock-up an advert in a design program or professionally edit a corporate video is unbelievably useful to a small or medium-sized business. It also gives the employee something important and useful to do when they have finished all other tasks. This makes them an invaluable member of the team and hence the last to be let go in tough times.

Below is a list of transferable skills that many employers actively look for when hiring staff:

  • money management (security, counting and processing)
  • administrative (filing and filling in forms)
  • innovation and entrepreneurship (ideas and networking)
  • analytical (collecting and using data for practical applications and continual improvement)
  • self-directed learning (being self-motivated to continually learn new skills)
  • time management (for example, prioritising or batch processing tasks for greater efficiency)
  • design (to improve systems and processes by incremental automation)
  • research and reporting (being able to find, sort, collate and present information)
  • processing and presentation software skills (for example in Excel, Word and PowerPoint)
  • financial (such as book-keeping)
  • marketing (such as social media, SEO, video production and design)
  • troubleshooting or problem solving (researching and testing solutions)
  • leadership (such as building rapport and managing multiple tasks or people)
  • IT (such as typing, using a computer effectively and setting up or troubleshooting a printer)
  • communication (verbal and written such as professional writing, blog writing and policy writing).
  • decision-making (practical, ethical and moral).

Many of the transferable skills that employers are looking for (like IT skills) can be explicitly delivered in a specific class or they can be delivered as part of an unrelated lesson or program. For example, a science teacher may spend a short period of time teaching students how to use Excel in order to record and summarise data from an experiment. Good practice is to identify transferable skills as part of the planning process so that there is a combined focus – killing 2 birds with 1 stone, as they say. Teachers can’t teach everything, but they can identify and teach several transferable skills even if they’re not explicitly listed in the curriculum.

Foot notes:

  1. This has happened in all sectors including adult education where transferable, generic, or similarly named skills are sometimes considered as important as the main learning objectives of the course.

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.

ADAM GREEN

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Amazon #1 best seller in the category of Classroom Management.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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