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 Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future textbook is part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) program offered in the United States and in Belgium, China, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Africa. The textbook targets youth, ages 15–18, from low-income and at-risk communities. The curriculum is intended to be used in schools and in community-based organizations.
The curriculum covers concepts related to starting, operating, and exiting a small business; reinforces math, reading, and writing; and develops skills in critical thinking, communication, and teamwork. Some secondary school, and functional reading, writing, and numeracy skills are recommended for those who use it. Photographs in the textbook communicate that the program is intended for young women and men, people who are physically challenged, people of color as well as Caucasians, and people from a range of different cultures. The textbook is intended to help young people who have not created a business to understand what types of skills and knowledge are needed to run a business, and what possible opportunities exist for them.
NFTE offers a teacher textbook to accompany the student textbook; it provides lesson plans, pacing guides, and more. Although not required in order to use the textbook, a three-day teacher training is available on how to implement the program, of which the textbook is an important part. Participants in the training receive lesson plans, teaching slide show presentations, pacing guides, classroom posters, and more to use in their programs. The training is conducted by NFTE master trainers.
The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) textbook contains eight modules focusing on different facets of entrepreneurship; each module is broken into chapters that are further divided into sections. The modules are as follows:
1. What is an Entrepreneur?
2. Preparing for Business
3. Opportunity Recognition and Market Analysis
4. Marketing Plan and Sales
5. Analyzing Finances
6. Starting Your Business
7. Managing Your Business
8. Growing Your Business
Each section of the textbook has objectives defined in terms of what learners will be able to do; most are observable or measurable. The assessments ("Check your Understanding" and "Assessment" sections), however, focus on understanding of content (concepts, vocabulary, facts, or information presented), not on what the entrepreneur will be able to do. The sequencing is from more general knowledge about economics and business to the details of running a small business.
No formal evaluation results available
The Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future textbook covers a wide array of topics related to entrepreneurship, from the big picture (what is entrepreneurship?) to the very detailed (tax implications and government regulations). The curriculum is comprehensive, covering essential knowledge that a young person interested in starting a business will need to know. Throughout the course, learners are asked to develop their own personal business plan. They can fill in the information either using a student workbook (paper) or by using the BizTech software (electronic). The textbook includes prompts for the learners when and what they should fill in based on where they are in the textbook.Another useful feature of the curriculum is a case study of a young woman that follows her challenges and successes starting, growing, and eventually leaving a catering business she started in high school. The case studies help tie together the chapters and provide learners of real examples of how a young person applies the topics included in the text to her professional life. The curriculum was updated in 2010 and the material is up-to-date and it makes use of recent examples. The format will be familiar to the learners and teachers, as the curriculum is a traditional textbook used in the U.S.A weakness of the curriculum is that it covers such a wide range of topics that it might be overwhelming to the learner. While NFTE uses textboxes, graphics, reading checkpoints, and mini-assessments throughout, it is still quite text heavy. To make the most of the curricular material, the learners need to have strong reading skills and relatively strong math skills in order to fully grasp it. If the learners are at-risk or coming from low income communities and do not have a strong academic background, they may find the material to be too complex. Also, the fact that the curriculum is in a textbook may be a deterrent to learners who have not been successful in a traditional, school environment and may be turned off thinking this is just another class.These challenges can be overcome based on the strength of the facilitator. It is imperative that the lesson plans used in conjunction with the text help engage learners, especially those with different learning needs and learning styles. The teacher guide was not submitted for this review, but it would likely provide guidance on how to address these issues.The version of the textbook reviewed is written for a U.S. audience. All of the examples are based in the U.S. and some of the topics, such as taxes and government regulations are particular to the U.S. It would need significant adaptation to be used with different audiences, especially for developing countries where the examples and activities may not be relevant to their specific contexts.
The content of the Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future textbook is well designed, attractive, and written clearly and appealingly. The format is very well organized, user-friendly and with inviting photographs and illustrations. A teacher would need to have a background in starting successful small businesses, however, or to be matched with an entrepreneur in a team-teaching situation. In poor countries successful entrepreneurs may not necessarily handle the level of English reading required by this textbook.
The textbook sequence is logical for a classroom of young people who have not yet started businesses, but those who might be seeking solutions to their immediate problems managing or expanding their existing business, might be impatient with this and want to begin to address their immediate needs. The textbook may have useful information for them but would need to be tailored to their needs by a skilled entrepreneurship teacher.
The three–sixth month program is described as using an experiential/learning by doing approach including games, activities and events. There are some activities included in the textbook itself, often as part of the assessment, in a section called Working Together. The first 14 chapters of the textbook are to help the participant to put together a business plan. A helpful table is included (pages 144–145) on what parts of the textbook will help to develop a standard or an advanced business plan.
Much would need to be changed in order to use this in a non-western, and especially poor or underdeveloped country where a lot of the (Internet, training and other) resources taken for granted in this textbook are not available. It would be a useful reference upon which to draw, however, in a wide range of entrepreneurial contexts.
A Microenterprise Training Guidefor Peace Corps Volunteers is a training curriculum to enable pre- and in-service Peace Corps volunteers to better understand and provide business services to people who wish to start or expand small (including one-person) businesses in developing countries. The curriculum is specifically geared toward volunteers who will be assisting microfinance institutions in the delivery of microfinance and related social business development services, and it introduces volunteers to concepts, practices, and methodologies surrounding microfinance and microenterprise. In addition, the curriculum provides recommendations for activities volunteers might engage in to learn more about these topics, as well as how they might contribute by providing training or coaching to microentrepreneurs in their host communities. The curriculum also includes specific suggestions and examples for tailoring it to a particular country and community.
A Microenterprise Training Guideis designed to be self-instructional (with assistance from a technical trainer), or used in group face-to-face (or online) instruction. It begins with an introduction that briefly explains why the Peace Corps works with microentrepreneurs, as well as recommendations for how Peace Corps volunteers (the learners) should use the curriculum. Most learners will use it as a self-guided course rather than something that will be used in a classroom or workshop setting. It concludes with an explanation of the experiential learning cycle and encourages the learners to look for opportunities to apply what they learn to their experiences. The curriculum includes five modules after the introduction: 1. An Effective Poverty-Reduction Strategy, which builds the case for why micro-enterprise is a good option for development, stressing the importance of gender considerations. 2. Microfinance Methods, which explores individual and group savings/credit schemes and types of lenders typically found in communities. 3. Operating a Microfinance Institution discusses how individuals and microentrepreneurs choose microfinance institutions and products. 4. Non-Financial Business Development Services, which explains the basics for developing a business development services training plan and walks through the steps for developing training sessions. 5. Business Counselor and Extensionist explains the differences between the role of a counselor vs. a consultant or adviser and proposes that the learner take on the role as the former, taking cultural differences into account. Each module includes a Technical Trainer’s Notes section that provides guidance on how the materials can be used in small-group training. This section also includes a list of definitions for the terms used in the module (with a space for the learners to write in the corresponding word in the local language), as well as a list of resources with brief descriptions.
No formal evaluation results available
The strengths of the Microenterprise Training Guide are that it is written for a generalist who may be new to micro-enterprise development and that the curriculum can be used by an individual at a distance as well as by groups of trainees. It is participatory and engaging with lots of hands-on assignments. It draws on and references many good activities and resources developed by others. In addition, the curriculum has content that might be used by microenterprise trainers in other contexts, but these modules or activities would need to be carefully re-purposed, not just lightly adapted. One weakness is that there is not much content in the module on nonfinancial business development services, an area where self-employed people and entrepreneurs often need very specific help. For example, someone using this guide would not learn how to help someone do a market analysis, set a price point for a product.This guide is not intended as training materials for entrepreneurs or for others engaged in small business or self employment; rather, it is a training manual for Peace Corps Volunteers who will be helping them. While this is a good introduction, and there are many useful materials for Peace Corps Volunteers who offer business services in their communities, someone who had no other training might not find this sufficient. With a fair amount of additional work, this could be adapted for orientation/initial training for others who provide these business services.
The Microenterprise Training Guide for Peace Corps Volunteers provides a primer about micro-finance and microenterprise for community development Volunteers. The curriculum material and activities are designed for individuals with very little, or no, knowledge of microfinance or microentrepreneurship. The introduction provides an overview of how the material is supposed to be used and the principles behind it, specifically, the experiential learning cycle. Sharing this information is useful because the majority of learners will use the curriculum as a self-guided tool. It is also useful to have a detailed list of references at the end of the modules, so the learners know where they can find more information on a given topic.
Another strength of the curriculum is the range of activities it provides, from self-reflective exercises such as surveys that explore the learners’ attitudes on micro-finance to field visits to local micro-finance institutions in the community to help understand the products and services provided and gain a better sense of what is available in the local market. Several of the modules begin with a brief anecdote about other community development activities Peace Corps Volunteers have done in their communities, which helps ground the material with practical examples.
A weakness of the curriculum is that there appear to be missing links between the information and activities, and what the relevance is to the learners’ community development projects. It is not clear how the learners are supposed to apply the learning contained in the curriculum in their communities and it would be useful if the take-aways from the activities were explicitly stated.
Although this curriculum is called “A Microenterprise Training Guide”, it is designed for Volunteers who will be providing business development services in their communities as well as Volunteers who will be working with micro-finance institutions. While it may be useful to know about both, most of the activities and information included in Module 3: Operating a Microfinance Institution would have little relevance for a Volunteer who is working with microenterprises (for example, knowing the organizational structure of a Microfinance Institution). In this same module, however, there is a section on “Local Microenterprises” and an activity called “Getting to Know Microentrepreneurs” which a) is out of place with the rest of the module and b) is not necessarily relevant to Volunteers working with microfinance institutions. The curriculum would therefore be strengthened if it were to be split into two separate guides. Finally, written in 2003, the curriculum needs to be updated to reflect relevant statistics and references, as well as new terminology used with more recent information on microenterprise.
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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.
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