Life/Career Abilities

When analyzing whether a student is college and/or career ready, most people quickly realize that  personal characteristics significantly contribute to readiness and success. Academic preparation provides an intellectual foundation, but other traits and dispositions that SPN calls “Life/Career Abilities” truly define “readiness.”

There are many terms used to define, what we call Life/Career Abilities. In business and industry, the reference is often to “soft skills.” But for some, that epithet implies that these skills are unimportant and easy to teach. However, to the contrary, these important skills and dispositions are difficult to teach  directly yet are very important. Often these skills are referred to in research as “non-cognitive skills;” however can suggest that there is an absence of thinking involved in the behaviors related to these dispositions. Life/Career Abilities do require thought. Furthermore, the skills are more than career skills since they equally apply to success in post secondary education at a college, university or some other setting. These are really the skills that contribute to success in life and success in a career and we have thus chosen the term Life/Career Abilities as a convenient descriptor.

Connection to  School Improvement

The importance of Life/Career Abilities to workplace readiness is obvious. The consistent message from most employers is that the skills they are looking for in future employees are Life/Career Abilities — even more than the academic and technical skills that students possess. Much of college readiness is focused on student need for proficiency is English Language Arts and Mathematics and avoiding remediation.  However, Life/Career Abilities are just as important to student perseverance and success.

Although it is unrealistic to teach Life/Career Abilities exclusively and to ignore academic and technical skills, schools need to make sure that teachers are helping students to develop these often-neglected but critically important abilities. In fact, in many schools, many teachers do an excellent job of developing many of these Life/Career Abilities. However, efforts are often inconsistent and some students develop great proficiency in Life/Career Abilities through their school experiences while others do not. The problem is that schools frequently lack a systematic effort to make sure that all students benefit from those experiences or  to give students feedback on their progress in developing the skills.

Schools do not necessarily need a separate curriculum, to develop Life/Career Abilities, but need to weave these skills into and within the overall instructional and extra-curricular program. SPN believes that one of the most significant and essential efforts that schools need to make in developing students’ career readiness is to undertake an intentional school-wide effort in developing Life/Career Abilities.


  • Define Life/Career Abilities — The specific characteristics, included in Life/Career Abilities should be defined in and by your school community. Schools are less effective when they leave a broad interpretation and let each teacher decide what that phrase means. Spend time to develop a common understanding of the specific characteristics under Life/Career Abilities that the staff emphasizes in instruction.
  • It’s All About Feedback —Teachers need to constantly give students feedback in the development of Life/Career Abilities. Compliment students when positive efforts are made and redirect student behaviors when they fall short of demonstrating positive behaviors. Feedback may be verbal in the process of instruction or can take the form of more formal assessments and rubrics — but student feedback is key.
  • Use Common Rubrics — An extension of providing a common definition of the skills and abilities, is to ensure teachers are interpreting behaviors consistently. Another, and more powerful,  way is to provide common definitions of levels of Life/Career Abilities through common rubrics.
  • Separate Behavior From Overall Grading Practices. One poor practices is adjusting student grades up or down based upon behavior characteristics in an attempt to influence student behavior. It may be convenient to use this strategy, but a better practice is to use a separate system for monitoring behaviors rather than connecting them to achievement grades.
  • Proactively Involve Students — Students should be invited to take a proactive role in identifying and implementing Life/Career programs. There are many school-wide efforts in character-based and leadership programs that can be helpful. A common characteristic in each of these is to actively involve students in the delivering these programs. Developing Life/Career Abilities are more effective when students are active learners, working with peers, rather than passive listeners while teachers deliver traditional lessons.


Following are several resources that SPN is familiar with that will assist school staff in strengthening instruction in Life/Career Abilities. If you additional resources to suggest, please let us know at or in the Community.

We Are Ready Survey

Successful Practices Network’s survey,  part of the WE Survey Suite of perception surveys, measures staff and student perceptions of the effectiveness of school practices related to career readiness, including, collaboration, self-advocacy, communication, problem-solving and self-reflection.

Career Ready Practices

The Career Ready Practices are a component of the Common Career Technical Core standards developed by the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc)  This list of twelve standards provides an excellent framework for the developmental experiences necessary to becoming career ready.

WIN Learning

WIN provides career readiness solutions that help districts prepare pathways for students’ futures, whether they are college, trade school, military or workplace bound. Solutions include:

  • WIN Career Readiness System, a comprehensive solution that includes career exploration and planning, college readiness assessments, career readiness foundational and employability skills support.
  • Career Readiness Courseware,  a series of nine career-focused modules, include Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, Listening, Observation, Applied Technology, Business Writing, Writing and Teamwork.
  • WIN Strategic Compass,  real-time labor market information for key industries, including wages, job demand, employer need and employer gaps.

From Soft Skills to Hard Data: Measuring Youth Program Outcomes 

This guide from the Forum for Youth Investment reviews ten youth outcome measurement tools that are appropriate used in after-school and other learning settings to assess Life/Career Abilities. For each tool, the guide provides sample items and crucial information about usability, cost, and evidence of reliability and validity.

Medal of Honor Character Development Program

Lessons of Personal Bravery and Self-Sacrifice designed by teachers for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation ( to provide students with opportunities to explore the important concepts of courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship and how these values can be exemplified in daily life.