Skills to Pay the Bills is a career and workforce readiness soft skills curriculum, published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). It was designed and piloted with the consultation of 100 youth. It is intended for youth service professionals, especially those who work with in-school and out-of-school youth ages 1421, in the United States. The materials are meant to be incorporated into existing curricula and/or programs, and adapted to the youth they serve. Following research on what employers need most in terms of skills and work readiness, six main skills/knowledge areas were identified for the manualcommunication; enthusiasm & attitude; teamwork; networking; problem solving & critical thinking; and professionalism. Information and activities are provided for each of these thematic areas.
The thematic areas are each presented with a page or two of general information on the theme, some notes to the facilitator, and five activities. These activites are laid out including the following:
Typically, at the end of the activity are materials for the activity such as scenarios, role-play descriptions, questions, etc. The end of the manual contains some information on the the do’s and don’ts of social networking and links to other useful resources.
During development, the curriculum was reviewed at pilot test sites. The curriculum was subsequently adjusted based on comments. The curriculum was tested and reviewed at FSW, Inc., WorkSkills (Bridgeport, Conn.), High School/High Tech (Madison, Fla.), KentuckianaWorks Youth Center (Louisville, Ky.), Massachusetts Migrant Education Program (Wilmington and Boston, Mass.), Project SEARCH (Washington, D.C.), Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (Denver, Colo.), and WorkSource/YouthSource (Renton, Wash.).
Skills to Pay the Bills is a very practical training guide with many adaptable activities that can be used in a variety of settings. With a very visual, neatly laid out, consistent format, the manual is very user-friendly. Useful suggestions are provided on how to vary some activities, depending on the group of youth one is working with. The activities take into account what the learners already know based on their past experiences, and build off of this. Furthermore, the activities are participatory, engaging, and variedall necessary when working with youth.
The manual could be strengthened by having more clearly defined competency/skill-based objectives , particularly since the manual is written in response to the identified needs of employers. For each of the five activities, it would be helpful to see in a more detailed way, the competency, skills, and knowledge areas being addressed. That could be useful to both the trainers and learners so they can gauge progress being made.
While the manual could be used in an international setting, it would take some work to adapt it. Most of the scenarios, examples, etc., are very United States-based. For example, the activity about successes and failures gives examples of American sports players, television/movie producers, scientists, et al. The participatory nature of the activities, however, can be used anywhere. The manual has a lot of active, hands-on, engaging activities that seem like they will keep youth interested and engaged.
While in some lessons the content of this curriculum is thin, in others it is well-developed. If this curriculum were to be used internationally, particularly in poor countries, some of the lessons would not be relevant, and some would need major adaptation. In some places more content, advice, and information would be needed that could not just be elicited from young people who have little or no work experience. For example, the “Flipping the Switch” lesson is presumably about appropriate ways to communicate in the working world but assumes that the youth already understand the differences between this kind of communication and communication with friends and family. In many contexts, however, in the United States and elsewhere, youth who have never had experience in the wage economy, and whose family members also have not had this experience, don’t really understand the differences and don’t know what is or isn’t appropriate or expected. There may need to be some direct instruction provided.
The amount of time needed for each lesson in some cases is greatly underestimated, especially for lessons that are described as being under 30 minutes. This cannot include the time needed for journaling and for extensions of the activity.
Because this is contextualized for the United States, often resources are taken for grantedsuch as certain kinds of materials and supplies, and access by youth to the Internetthat are frequently not available to youth in poor or developing countries. Perhaps the best use of these lessons is to follow the guideline suggested by the authors; to incorporate lessons that are relevant and easily adapted into an existing work readiness curriculum.
The Tips for Improving Access to This Curriculum for All Youth section (in the Introduction) has some especially useful ideas that may not always be considered in curriculum design, for example, activities such as journaling and drawing, the advice to “Presume competence and instill confidence,” and active thinking about making accommodations. There's a list of some typical accommodations for reading, writing, audio/visual communication, math, and organizational skills. This would be a good place to begin to help awaken facilitators to the need for accommodations and universal design in any culture.
U.S. Department of Labor
The Volunteerism Action Guide: Multiplying the Power of Service (V2) is a resource for Peace Corps Volunteers and their community partners to plan, design, implement, and assess local service or volunteerism activities. The aim of the V2 Action Guide is to support existing or new host country volunteerism efforts for engaging youth in identifying, planning, implementing, and assessing service projects to improve their communities, schools, and other environments. Applying a service learning approach when possible, this publication shows Volunteers how to add value to their capacity-building work by helping participants in volunteer activities to identify learning goals and integrate reflection (learning) in their work. Youth participants gain key skills that can support them in future projects, in school, and in the world of work such as project and time management, communication, critical thinking, and resource management.
It is written for Peace Corps Volunteers, but can be used by anyone interested in starting a service learning project in their community.
Review 1The Volunteerism Action Guide: Multiplying the Power of Service(V2)is a very practical, well laid-out guide that would be useful in setting up a learning service project. It is really meant for Peace Corps Volunteers to use, but a seasoned facilitator or community leader might be able to follow the process as well. Given the complexity or level of detail of some steps, it seems that anyone using this guide would benefit from an orientation beforehand.
The guide focuses on nine steps: 1) Prepare for Service, 2) Identify What We Know, 3) Find Out More, 4) Plan for Action, 5) Mobilize your Community, 6) Implement the Service Activity, 7) Assess and Reflect, 8) Celebrate and Demonstrate, 9) Wrap up and Follow up. Each step is clear and provides the what, the how, and an example.
In terms of Preparing for Work, there is a link in Step 4, Plan for Action, where the group member is given the opportunity to identify learning or growth goals. Examples are given under personal growth/life skills, academic skills, work or career skills, civic engagement skills, and technical skills. This however, seems to be a minor part of the guide. If the guide is to be used to conscientiously help group members prepare for work, there would be a need for more direct linkages between the steps and what they are doing in the community to show how this impacts their readiness for work.
The Volunteerism Action Guide: Multiplying the Power of Service (V2) is a clear, adaptable, youth-centered curriculum for engaging youth in service learning projects that both build youth’s skills and have a positive impact on their communities. Relevant examples and easy-to-use templates add meaning to the how-to, step-by-step instructions for facilitators who may be teachers, community organizers, or youth themselves. The guide does demonstrate the role of service learning in providing work readiness skills and life skills for youth through hands-on learning.
The guide could be strengthened if it highlighted this aspect more by including stronger references to it in the introduction and pointing out more explicitly that the skills youth gain through the curriculum can be linked to work readiness and more general life skills. The curriculum has the added value of multiplying impact in that most youth participants may be prepared to lead and teach other youth after going through the cycle themselves. If users of the guide are aware of how to access additional Peace Corps manuals mentioned throughout the guide, they will have an increased understanding of how to enhance the curriculum.
The Rwandan Youth Work Readiness Curriculum was created in 2010 by the Akazi Kanoze Youth Livelihoods Project, sponsored by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC). It is intended for Rwandans ages 14–24, especially for out-of-school youth. Although it assumes that participants have at least functional literacy, it has been offered to youth who have various levels of education, from P4 completers to university graduates. It has been used for in-school youth in the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system and has been provided by youth-serving organizations, private sector companies with a program for youth employment, and by the Workforce Development Authority (Government of Rwanda, TVET agency). The curriculum includes eight modules that, taken together, enable a complete three-month course. (The length of the course depends on how many hours per week of instruction are offered.) The modules could also be used separately or in various combinations.
The curriculum is learner-centered and engaging: The modules’ learning activities include role plays, case studies/scenarios, simulations, pair share and pair work, small-group work, and brainstorming, among other strategies. Each module begins with a self-assessment and ends with a quiz to give the learner an opportunity to assess and reflect on his or her experiences and skills. Activities often start by having participants reflect on something from their lives, and build upon that. There are end-of-module and end-of-course assessments. The curriculum is accompanied by a trainer’s manual. Each module has two to four sessions, depending on the number of topics that need to be covered, with three to six activities per session. Each module contains the following:
1. Personal Development: identifying values & interests; assessing attributes & skills; identifying learning styles & learning strategies; goal setting, planning, & tracking progress
2. Interpersonal Communication: speaking and listening; following and giving instructions and feedback; forms of communication in the workplace; cooperating/working as a team member; providing good customer service
3. Work Habits and Conduct: identifying and applying for jobs (writing applications, CVs, cover letters, thank you letters); interviewing; workplace behaviors and attitudes; time management; balancing work and home life
4. Leadership: characteristics of an effective leader; leadership styles; organizing and motivating others; team building; leading others in problem solving and conflict resolution
5. Safety and Health at Work: Rwanda health and safety laws and practices; identifying and avoiding hazards in the workplace; responding to emergencies and accidents; basic first aid; healthy lifestyles; stress management
6. Worker and Employer Rights and Responsibilities: Rwandan labor code; workers’ rights: benefits and labor laws
7. Financial Literacy: managing money; saving; budgeting; how financial institutions work; making financial decisions
8. Market Literacy: the cycle of business; entrepreneurship skills; planning for unexpected events; financial record-keeping; marketing; negotiating; adding value to products
No formal evaluation results available
Review 1 The Rwandan Youth Work Readiness Curriculum is a well-designed, attractive, user-friendly workforce readiness curriculum for out-of-school youth and adults. Although made for Rwanda, it would not be difficult to adapt it for other sub-Saharan African countries, and perhaps countries in other parts of the world. One of its strengths is that it does not require a high level of literacy and numeracy. It is clearly and simply written, includes lots of very helpful tools for teachers, and employs activities that are engaging but easily implemented with relatively little teacher training. The curriculum is basic and does not attempt to deal with career planning, the more sophisticated and difficult parts of the entrepreneurship process such as micro-loans, or with hard training skills. It provides opportunities, however, to reinforce basic skills in reading and writing as well as to learn new so-called soft skills needed for work.
The Rwandan Youth Work Readiness Curriculum is a holistic, foundational course that prepares Rwandan youth for their entry or re-entry into the workforce. It covers a wide range of topics from preparing a CV to financial planning to understanding the Rwandan labor code. The curriculum empowers youth by fully engaging them in the learning process and giving them the opportunity to learn-by-doing and practice using new skills in a safe environment. Although some of the modules cover complex concepts, the curriculum effectively engages learners by using a participatory learning methodology that makes the material accessible and immediately relevant to the learners’ lives.
Activities are designed for learners with varying learning styles and preferences such as self-reflection, group work, role plays, guest speakers, field trips, games, and written self-reflection. The learning objectives are clearly stated at the beginning of each module and activity, and progress in achieving those objectives can be assessed using the tools provided in the curriculum. Specifically, facilitators can assess learners’ progress through the use of tests that appear at the end of every module, as well as by reviewing the self-assessment chart that learners fill out in their workbooks.
The curriculum is very effective and has few weaknesses. One small criticism is that the facilitator guide provides a step-by-step process for leading the activities that appear in the curriculum, but it is missing a thorough explanation of the curriculum methodology. Although it might be immediately obvious to experienced trainers, trainers who are not accustomed to using participatory techniques may struggle with some of the activities or skip them entirely. The facilitator guide could be enhanced by providing some background information about the methodology, the “why” behind using it, and how the methodology informs the activities in the curriculum.
Another minor weakness of the curriculum is that some of the activities require a significant amount of preparation and materials, which some facilitators may not have time to do and/or have access to. It might be useful to include some options for the facilitator. For example, if an activity calls for the facilitator to bring in pictures of great leaders, a tip to facilitators might be that if it is not possible to bring in pictures, to ask students to draw pictures of leaders.
International Technical Advisor II
Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC)
The Peace Corps Life Skills Manual is a comprehensive behavior change approach that concentrates on developing the skills needed for life, such as communication, decision-making, and critical thinking. It also helps learners understand the importance of assertiveness, self-esteem, resisting peer pressure, and creating healthy relationships. Additionally, it addresses the important related issues of empowering girls and guiding boys toward new values. The program moves beyond providing information. It addresses the development of the whole individual, including their health—so that a person will have the skills to make use of all types of information, whether it be related to reproductive and sexual health, safe motherhood, and other communication and decision-making situations. While the focus is on health, the life skills are relevant to those found in work readiness curricula and could be adapted for other purposes.
This manual consists of more than 50 different interactive lesson ideas, using role plays, games, puzzles, group discussions, and a variety of other innovative teaching techniques to keep the participant fully involved in the sessions. Lessons include HIV/AIDS training sessions that are particularly useful in working with youth and other vulnerable groups. The manual is meant to be adapted to different situations and recommends that a community assessment be done first to determine the needs of the community.
The intended audience is Peace Corps Volunteers (e.g., health workers or teachers) and their local partners who work with male and female youth or adults (teachers, health workers, parents, community volunteers, youth leaders, peer educators, etc.). The focus is on health. sexuality, communication, and decision-making skills. The targeted participants or beneficiaries are youth 13–28, with little to no schooling, in-school youth, or members of out-of-school or afterschool organizations such as anti-AIDS clubs, girls clubs, boys clubs, youth organizations, women's groups, etc.
The manual includes an introduction, tips on conducting a community needs assessment, a Training of Trainers sample five-day schedule, and lesson plans, including objectives, activities, and evaluations for 50 sessions (activities). An appendix includes specific activities for ice breakers and breaks and some assessment instruments.Sections include the following:
A typical use of the manual in a Life Skills Training of Trainers model is for 5 full days, although this depends on the purpose and audience. The curriculum includes suggestions on how to tailor this to audiences such as Peace Corps Volunteers in pre-service training; community leaders; peer educators; and for a basic introduction or briefing on what a Life Skills approach should be.
No formal evaluation results available
The strengths of the Peace Corps Life Skills Manual include its availability in multiple languages including Spanish, French and Swahili as well as English. In addition, every lesson offers specific, behaviorally-stated learning objectives although these are not always directly measured in the evaluation section of the lesson. The manual is designed to build on facilitators’ existing knowledge and skills, for example through brainstorming; role plays; scenarios; paired, small group and large group discussion; low-stakes initial assessments of knowledge; games and simulations; and reflection. The format is also clear and useful. The photographs are very attractive, the writing is clear and straightforward. And there are lots of materials included for activities.Weaknesses of the curriculum are that although originally developed in Africa, this manual has been re–edited for global distribution, but without updates since 2001 so there may be a need for review of content, especially in health-related topics such as HIV/AIDS. There is also a heavy reliance in a majority of the topics on health and sexuality decision making. These are, of course, important life skills areas, but this is not a comprehensive life skills curriculum, does not for example, include money management, work readiness, family living and parenting skills, knowledge of good environmental practices, worker rights and responsibilities and other important life skills topics.This Manual would be especially useful for an intensive Training of Trainers whose focus was on enabling youth behavior change in the areas of STDs and decisions around sexuality and relationships.
The Life Skills Manual provides a lot of information and participatory activities to address key life skills topics including HIV/AIDS, communication skills (focusing primarily on assertiveness), decision making skills, and relationship skills. While there is an attempt to build off the existing knowledge of participants as well as concepts introduced in previous lessons, the curriculum feels somewhat disjointed. HIV/AIDS topics figure heavily and could be treated separately in a stand-alone manual. The unit on communication skills focuses primarily on assertiveness instead of opening it up to other forms of communication.
Overall however the manual is user friendly and provides a consistent format. It touches on many topics that are important to youth and presents them through interactive methods that participants will find engaging. Users of the manual might want to develop a more formal way of assessing whether or not the participants have understood the materials and have developed some skills in communication, decision-making and managing relationships.
If the manual is to be used in a “preparing for work” context, the facilitator will need to do some extra work to link the concepts presented here to the work setting. For examples, work-related scenarios and role plays could be integrated into some of the activities, and discussions could be centered on the application of life skills topics in the work environment.
Download Materials in English, French, Spanish or Swahili Here:
Youth Build International's Working Hands Working Minds is a set of five instructional modules designed to help alternative schools and youth programs integrate classroom theoretical learning with hands-on practical training especially related to the building trades. The curriculum is specifically written for out-of-school youth and young adults ages 16-24. However, it is suitable for use with in-school and other youth and young adult populations. The program is activity-based and centers around nontechnical aspects of the construction industry that are important to master for successful employment. These include, for example, units of instruction on reading, writing and mathematics skills related to construction. Leadership development, health and safety, and responsibility and teamwork are also fostered. Although technical skill development is not covered, participants are exposed to technical terminology and concepts in the process of addressing other objectives. The curriculum has been adapted for South Africa.
Working Hands Working Minds contains five modules:
Module 1 focuses on teamwork and leadership in construction and includes 10 lesson units ranging from The Heart of Teamwork and Leadership and Diversity in the Workplace, to Effective Communication and Working as a Team. Module 2, Construction Health and Safety, has lessons on Attitudes and Behavior, Personal Safety Gear, Dealing with Emergencies, and Workplace Safety Assessment among the 13 individual units. Tools, Trades and Technology in Construction is the subject of Module 3. The nine instructional units provide a good overview of the kinds of hand tools, power tools, and other technology workers use. Module 4 covers the very basic measurement and mathematical calculations construction workers use on the job. It is a useful, basic primer, with exercises and examples designed to relate the learning of measurement and mathematical concepts and operations to practical work activity. Module 5 relates to communities. Instruction units such as Building a House into a Home, Exploring Community History, Describing a Home, and Research on Housing Needs attempt to sensitize students to the larger human and community-building role they are playing as they pound nails, cut boards, and lay rafters.
No formal evaluation results available
Working Hands Working Minds is a well-designed, easy-to-use set of instructional units in five modules intended for use with out-of-school [youth] and youth preparing for employment in the construction industry. Some of the material focuses on developing basic mathematical and reading and writing competencies relating to construction work. Others deal with generating positive attitudes about construction work, working with others, and personal job responsibilities. The material is logically organized, with an easy-to-follow format. The instructional emphasis is on active participation by the students through many well-designed exercises. The activities relate to learning the content. It is very learner-centered material presented in a way to tap student interest. This is probably one of the better quality sets of material of its kind available. The fact that it was developed in 2001 does not make it outdated because of the general but relatively timeless character of the content covered. Concepts of reading, measuring, adding and taking personal responsibility do not change very much over time. The material is not dated, but it relates primarily to the US context. Adaptation to other country contexts, however, can be easily achieved.
© 2010-2012 Education Development Center, Inc.