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About the ATE Employability Skills project at SRI

The Project

This site outlines the findings of a multi-year research project, Promoting the Development of STEM Tech Employability Skills: A Review of Practices and Needs in the ATE Community, led by SRI Education and funded by the National Science Foundation. SRI researchers conducted original research to understand what needs exist for early-career employees entering technical fields, focusing on:

  • The high-priority employability skills most in demand in technical fields
  • What makes employability skills so important in today’s employment marketplace
  • How employability skills develop
  • What strategies are used by community college educators and employers of early-career technicians to support employability skills growth


Need for This Research

Meeting hands raised

In this era of rapid technological change and global job competition, non-technical skills and attitudes such as teamwork and communication are very important to sustaining any career. This is particularly true for technician fields, which are changing rapidly due to automation and information technologies.

Yet, employers report that many early-career technicians fail to demonstrate these “employability skills”. They are calling on both educators and their own managers to do more to cultivate these skills.

What are Employability Skills?

Sometimes referred to as 21st-century skills and essential skills, relevant competencies include: intrapersonal skills that support goal-setting, continual learning, and sustained engagement on tasks, interpersonal/teamwork skills that support productive interactions with others and flexible adaptation to workplace organizational roles and structures, and applied competence to solve problems and think critically.

The lack of attention on employability skills stems from misconceptions that technician work does not require advanced interpersonal/teamwork or communication skills, lack of opportunities to learn about modern technician occupations, stereotypes about who may find technician careers fulfilling, and beliefs that these skills are rooted in personality and upbringing and are difficult to improve.

Research Team

Principal Investigator
Louise Yarnall, Ph.D., is a senior research social scientist in SRI Education. She specializes in community college education research, assessment design, evaluation of scaling up classroom innovative instructional and assessment practices, and journalism education research.

Co-Principal Investigator
Julie Remold, Ph.D., is an Anthropologist and Senior Researcher with over 10 years of equity-oriented research, design, and evaluation experience. Her current research foci include professional development for educators, out-of-school learning and open-ended STEM inquiry programs such as found in educational making initiatives and inquiry-oriented STEM instruction.

Questions? Contact us.

The project team reviewed prior research from education and workplace studies and conducted in-depth interviews with technician workforce experts. In total, we reviewed 273 articles and interviewed 40 educators, employers, and recent graduates from technician programs, with the goal of answering four key research questions:

  • What drives the demand for employability skills?
  • Which skills are most important for technicians?
  • What learning principles and instructional practices support their development?
  • What approaches to employability skills development can support improved diversity in technician fields?