Co-authored by:
Brittany Griffin, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Learner-Centered Collaborative

Lauren Cole, Vice President of Strategy and Operations, America Succeeds
Eric Lerum, Senior Advisor, America Succeeds

In the summer of 2022, the Indiana Department of Education (INDoE) embarked on an ambitious journey with the launch of its Employability Skills Innovation and Implementation (ESII) Grant. This grant funded efforts to work in 58 Indiana schools to integrate three core Employability Skills: collaboration, communication, and work ethic into the state’s educational framework. They partnered with America Succeeds and Learner-Centered Collaborative to both create a roadmap for Indiana districts to develop Employability Skills and also to inspire schools, districts, and state education leaders across the country to undertake similar initiatives.

Indiana’s Employability Skills Initiative

Indiana’s Employability Skills Initiative focuses on the development of essential skills that go beyond traditional academics, preparing students for success in the workforce and beyond. The initiative acknowledges the importance of real-world experiences, hands-on learning, and engagement with employers to ensure that students not only possess theoretical knowledge but also practical competencies that align with the expectations of the workforce. Through a combination of innovative strategies, partnerships with businesses, and a commitment to student-centered learning, Indiana aims to empower its students with the holistic skill set needed for future success and lifelong learning.

Durable SkillsAnd for good reason – Indiana’s “Employability Skills” fall under what America Succeeds calls, “Durable Skills.” Durable Skills include a combination of how you use what you know – skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity – as well as character skills like fortitude, growth mindset, and leadership. In a 2021 report on Durable Skills in Indiana, America Succeeds analyzed 1.6 million job postings across 20 industries and 29,000 employers from 2020-2021, finding that 1.2 million Indiana jobs demanded at least one Durable Skill, 704,000 demanded three or more Durable Skills, and that six of the 10 most requested skills across all postings were Durable Skills.

Creating a Throughline From School to Career with America Succeeds 

INDoE recognized the importance of aligning educational goals with employer expectations. To achieve this, America Succeeds collaborated with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce to conduct three employer workshops across the state. Over 60 participants engaged in meaningful discussions, shedding light on how employers define and value employability skills.

Employers emphasized the significance of practical, real-world experience in addition to traditional classroom learning. The consensus was clear—demonstrating these skills should lead to increased opportunities and career advancement.

Understanding the demand and opportunities that await their graduates, schools were eager and determined partners, and true to the innovative Hoosier spirit, there was no single approach. For some schools, integrating employability skills into the curriculum would be an entirely new venture; for others, it may be part of an ongoing initiative. The only common directive from the department was to use the ESII grant to accelerate their work, measure the outcomes, and capture lessons learned and promising practices. 

America Succeeds was fortunate to visit a number of schools and interview the educators, students, and employers taking part. The breadth of opportunities and experiences being provided to 90,000+ students across the state was truly impressive: hands-on career awareness kits aligned to pathways; learning experiences designed to model and reinforce skills and positive behaviors; service- and project-based implementation, including community service days, career digital portfolios, and shark tank competitions with credentialing opportunities; off-campus academic opportunities, mentorships, internships, and work-based learning; and career coaching. America Succeeds captured the insights and lessons learned for a forthcoming case study and video highlighting the grantees’ work.

Access the full case study and video highlighting the groundbreaking work of Indiana schools, employers, and the Department of Education here.

Codifying the Implementation Process with Learner-Centered Collaborative

Throughout the ESII implementation, the Learner-Centered Collaborative (LCC) team guided the process through a commitment to understanding, refining, and disseminating valuable grantee insights. The partnership with LCC involved surveying grant winners to understand their investments, successes, and challenges. A heatmap, crafted for INDoE, provided a comprehensive overview of the grant winners’ progress. The initiative went beyond data, with in-person visits to classrooms and virtual interviews with leaders and educators, enabling a nuanced understanding of each school’s distinctive approach.

Employability Skills Playbook website

The culmination of these efforts resulted in a comprehensive Employability Skills Playbook. The website, representing the collective wisdom gleaned from Indiana and analogous initiatives nationwide, underwent iterative refinement through feedback sessions with grantee school leaders and educators as well as teams from the Department of Education. The Playbook features four implementation phases to support Employability Skills Implementation and a self-assessment to guide school and district leaders to their optimal entry point. Each phase includes discrete strategies, resources, examples, and tools. The LCC team supported the Playbook’s launch via a statewide webinar in December 2023, marking a crucial milestone in sharing this valuable resource with education leaders, offering a blend of local stories and national perspectives to support employability skills development in Indiana and beyond.

Explore the Indiana Department of Education’s Employability Skills Playbook website.

A Model for Indiana and Beyond

Indiana’s Employability Skills Initiative fosters a new paradigm where students are equipped not only with academic prowess but also with essential real-world competencies. As we reflect on the transformative journey catalyzed by partnerships with America Succeeds and LCC, we invite educators, policymakers, and stakeholders alike to join us in championing this holistic approach to learning. Let’s collectively embrace the challenge of preparing our youth for the demands of tomorrow’s workforce and beyond. Explore the Employability Skills Playbook, engage with the resources, and embark on your own journey towards empowering students with the skills they need to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of the 21st century. Together, we can shape a future where every student has the opportunity to realize their full potential. 


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