Incorporating Career Readiness Competencies into Courses

(Originally published August 10, 2022 in the CITLS newsletter.)

Academic coursework and classroom experiences are perhaps the most prolific opportunities during which students learn and develop career competencies. This is an opportunistic time to incorporate career competency language into syllabi and highlight how the work students are doing in class builds career readiness competencies. 

The Gateway Career Center is a member of NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), which is the largest national organization whose membership includes career development professionals and employers who hire our college graduates. Collectively, a NACE task force came together to develop and define the core competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for lifelong career management success. What resulted from their work is this list of NACE Career Readiness Competencies which include: Career and Self-Development, Communication, Critical Thinking, Equity & Inclusion, Leadership, Professionalism, Teamwork, and Technology.

NACE’s Job Outlook 2022 survey found gaps between employer perceptions of the importance of the career readiness competencies and student proficiency in those competencies. The results can be found in this Competencies: Employers Weigh Importance Versus New Grad Proficiency article.

Competencies Help Students Create a Common Language

In many cases we find that it’s not a lack of proficiency in the competencies on the part of students, but rather an inability to effectively articulate what they have learned. Students can have difficulty making connections between their undergraduate experiences and the competencies employers seek. Helping students confidently articulate how their knowledge demonstrates the competencies employers seek begins with using a common language. The NACE Career Readiness Competencies can be that common language and help students make important bridges.

How One Instructor Incorporates Competencies

In Tea for Teaching podcast 246 Embedding Career Competencies, Jessica Kruger, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior and the Director of Teaching Innovation and Excellence at the University of Buffalo describes how she incorporates career competencies into her courses. She says,

. . .  in every assessment that I have in class, I have not only the objectives, why we’re doing it, but I include what competencies we’re working towards, and how they can talk about this in a job interview [or] to an internship site. So it’s not just that you’re writing a paper, you’re working on those written communication skills, and you’re able to articulate that.

It all comes down to transparency, because the more transparent and applied students feel that their assessments are, the higher quality I tend to see their work. And so by telling them, you’re not just writing a paper for me to read, you’re writing a paper to practice this skill. And you’re also going to do a presentation, because in public health, you need to have excellent written and oral communication skills. And hey, you’re also going to make a poster on Canva, because you need to know how to use technology. And so by kind of stringing these competencies together, it allows students to see that what they’re doing is not just for a grade, but to help them build those skills.

Infusing Intentionality Rather than Changing Course Content

This approach of incorporating career readiness competencies into a syllabus doesn’t alter course content, but rather it infuses intentionality and explains how the work students are already doing connects to the career readiness competencies valued by employers.

Kruger agrees.

And I’ll say this really was not much effort, I did not change what I was doing in my courses. I really just added a sentence or two to each of my assessments, relating it back to the NACE Competencies, I also brought a little bit more awareness to what we were doing in class. When we would do group work, I’d say, “Oh, you know what? You’re working on teamwork.” That’s great, because in public health, we work in teams, and this is also related to the NACE competencies.

Selected Resources

If you are interested in learning more about how you might incorporate career readiness competencies into your teaching, you may find these resources helpful:

BAC Syllabus – Courtesy of University of Tampa

Curated Resources for Teaching and Assessing Career Readiness Competencies

Mapping the Impacts of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Inquiry Experiences to the NACE Career Readiness Competencies

How College Contributes to Workforce Success (AAC&U and Hanover Research)

Major Maps (Queens University)

Improving Student Skills and Career Readiness Through Targeted and Embedded Instruction (Troisi, 2021)

You can learn more about the Gateway Career Center here and please feel free to contact Maureen Walz, Director, Special Programs at with any questions.