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REL Central Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

February 2021


What nonacademic or social-emotional learning indicators have been linked to workplace success?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Al-Musalli, A. (2019). Rethinking business communication skills education: Are communication courses preparing students for the workplace? College Quarterly, 22(2). Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This paper calls for a reexamination of the kind of transferable business communication skills that new graduates require as they enter the workforce. Market needs are studied as the focal point for developing relevant exercises to train towards workplace communication competence. The arguments presented in this study are based on an investigation of the communication skills that a sample of Canadian companies in British Colombia deem necessary for new employees. Findings shed light on the importance of bridging the gap between the kind of training offered in business communication skills courses and what the job market expects of new graduates.”

Crespin, K. P., Holzman, S., Muldoon, A. & Sen, S. (2019). Framework for the future: Workplace readiness skills in Virginia. University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Demographics Research Group. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“In 2017, the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education continued Virginia’s long history of data-driven evaluation of its workplace readiness skills framework by requesting that the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service conduct research to identify and update the skills that are of most value to the state’s many employers. This research consisted of three stages: 1) reviewing relevant literature to identify and understand changing workplace trends; 2) analyzing numerous state and national workplace readiness skill frameworks to evaluate how Virginia’s framework compares; and 3) conducting a survey of Virginia employers and workforce professionals to get their feedback about which workplace readiness skills are most critical for entry-level workers to have, now and in the future.”

Elchert, D. M., Latino, C. A., Bobek, B. L., Way, J., & Casillas, A. (2017). The importance of behavioral skills and navigation factors for education and work success. ACT. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“Over the past decade, there has been greater recognition by educators, employers, and policymakers of the importance of behavioral skills and navigation factors (e.g., dependability, cooperation, interests, and goals) for education and career success. A growing body of research shows that these factors contribute to diverse positive outcomes in both education and workforce settings. In addition, recent legislation (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015) provides states with the flexibility to include a non-academic indicator (in conjunction with traditional academic achievement indicators) when measuring K–12 student progress and success, calling attention to the role of non-academic factors in contributing to educational outcomes. These factors are also important to employers. Surveys of employers indicate an increased need for employees with a range of behavioral and navigation skills that influence work outcomes. Recognizing the significance of behavioral skills and navigation factors, ACT recently advanced the ACT Holistic Framework, a more holistic approach to preparing people for success throughout their education and work journeys. This comprehensive, research based framework includes core academic skills, cross-cutting capabilities, behavioral skills, and navigation factors across critical transitions that are considered essential for achieving education and career success. This report focuses on behavioral skills and navigation factors (drawn from the ACT Holistic Framework) that elementary, middle, and high school teachers, college instructors, and workforce supervisors consider important for success. The following four topics are discussed: 1) the behavioral skills and navigation factors featured in the ACT Holistic Framework; 2) a brief description of the 2016 ACT survey of college and career readiness expectations, by which data were collected on the factors considered integral to success in education and work; 3) survey results from educators and workforce supervisors, along with the potential implications of these findings; and 4) recommendations that translate the importance attributed to behavioral skills and navigation factors into actions for policymakers, educators, and employers.”

Johnson, M. K., Rowatt, W. C., & Petrini, L. (2011). A new trait on the market: Honesty–Humility as a unique predictor of job performance ratings. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 857–862. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“‘Honesty–Humility emerges as a sixth dimension of personality beyond traits similar to the Big Five and could be a unique correlate of job performance. In this study, Honesty–Humility’s ability to predict supervisor ratings of employees’ job performance was examined among workers who provide care for challenging clients. Employees completed 240 items from the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) measuring Honesty–Humility, Extraversion, Emotionality, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience. Supervisors rated employee performance on 35 job skills. Honesty–Humility correlated positively with supervisor ratings of overall job performance and was a unique predictor of performance ratings over and above the five other main factors in the model (Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience). Honesty–Humility appears to be an important personality trait in predicting job performance in care-giving roles. Implications for selecting and hiring personnel are discussed.”

Meyer, R. H., Wang, C., & Rice, A. B. (2018). Measuring students’ social-emotional learning among California’s CORE districts: An IRT modeling approach [Working paper]. Policy Analysis for California Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“With an increased appreciation of students’ social-emotional skills among researchers and policy makers, many states and school districts are moving toward a systematic process to measure Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). In this study, we examine the measurement properties of California’s CORE Districts’ SEL survey administered to over 400,000 students in grades 3 to 12 during the 2015–16 school year. We conduct analyses through both classical test theory and item response theory frameworks, applying three different polytomous IRT models on both the full student sample and on separate samples from each grade. From these analyses, we summarize the psychometric properties of items at each grade level, compare items’ functionality across grades, compare student outcomes from IRT models and the classical approach, make suggestions on approaches to modeling and scaling the SEL survey data, and identify items, by grade, that do not contribute positively to measurement of each outcome. Finally, we discuss policy implications in using SEL measures among educators, administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders.”

Moyer, R., Snodgrass, J., Klein, S. & Tebben, C. (2017). Simulated work-based learning: Instructional approaches and noteworthy practices. US Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Retrieved from

From the executive summary:

“Work-based learning (WBL) has long been used in career and technical education (CTE) to allow students to practice the knowledge and skills they acquire in the classroom within a ‘real-world’ business or industry setting. High-quality work placements reinforce schoolbased instruction by providing students with a context for applying academic theory with technical skills, and an authentic backdrop for learning the career-readiness (also described as employability) skills valued by employers. Simulated WBL aims to replicate workplace experiences by allowing students to immerse themselves in a realistic worksite activity without leaving campus (Lateef 2010). Simulations may be adopted for various reasons, including but not limited to the difficulty educators face in placing students with employers; logistical issues, such as the geographical isolation of rural providers or scheduling challenges that limit students’ ability to travel; safety or insurance issues that restrict students’ access or engagement; and labor laws, which may prohibit underage students from working. Relatively little is known about the contribution simulated WBL can make to student learning, its most effective forms or fields of application, or its advantages relative to other forms of instruction. This paper explores the potential benefits that simulated WBL may offer CTE students. It is based on evidence gathered from a review of online resources and telephone interviews with state and local program staff in nine project sites located in five states–Alabama, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia–using simulation as an instructional tool. Project work focused on classifying the forms that simulated WBL can take, the prevalence of program offerings at the secondary and postsecondary education levels, the perceived benefits of quality programs, and the obstacles to their formation. Although educators are using a range of approaches to simulate work, the CTE programs in the nine sites that were examined fell into three models: (1) those using ‘simulation tools’ to teach occupationally specific skills; (2) ‘simulated workplaces’, intended to replicate jobsite conditions; and (3) ‘school-based enterprises’, operated as student-run businesses that produce and sell products or services. Each model offers opportunities for CTE students to practice and grow career skills, none of which are exclusive to a given approach. While most of the site interviewees praised the use of simulated WBL for CTE programs and offered anecdotal evidence to support their views, rigorous evaluations have yet to be conducted. For this reason, further research is needed to support the introduction, growth, and refinement of this noteworthy instructional practice.”

Nold, H. (2017). Using critical thinking teaching methods to increase student success: An action research project. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(1), 17–32. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Numerous studies and United States Department of Education reports indicate that university graduates lack critical thinking and problem solving skills that are needed for success in both the classroom and the modern workplace. Success in the classroom and workplace is a function of many attributes that change with the situation, but the ability to synthesize complex relationships and identify potential solutions to problems or innovation is a core competency. In this action research project, the curriculum in three business courses were modified to include and emphasize activities that research suggests help develop critical thinking. The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1991) was used to assess changes in 15 learning constructs during a class and correlated with grades. A modified MSLQ (Boyer & Usinger, 2012) was administered at the beginning and end of eight-week courses to provide insight into how students self-assess constructs for success. Results from classes over a 15-month period in 2013 and 2014 indicated improvement in 14 of 15 elements for success with three (intrinsic goal orientation, self-efficacy, and critical thinking) statistically significant.”

Oliveri, M. E. & McCulla, L. (2019). Using the occupational network database to assess and improve English Language communication for the workplace. Research Report. ETS RR-19-28. ETS Research Report Series. Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“For native and nonnative English speakers, employment increasingly requires proficiency in communication, given its critical role in employees’ ability to successfully carry out work-related activities. Although communicating competently is important for employability, survey findings have suggested that employers believe that colleges are not teaching communication skills sufficiently and are not preparing students adequately for success in their future workplaces. To better inform student preparation and workforce readiness in the United States, we examine (a) which communication skills and language abilities matter more for employment performance and (b) how frequently communicative activities (e.g., face-to-face, telephone, e-mail) occur across job zones. To address these objectives, we analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Network (O*NET) database, which houses data on the skills and abilities employees need for successful employment and the skills employers search for in employees and which serves as an extensive resource to inform job analysis. We found differences regarding which communication skills matter by job zone. There was agreement across job zones regarding the importance of oral comprehension. On average, respondents across job zones agreed that it matters for more than 70% of jobs. In contrast, writing matters for more than 70% of jobs only in Job Zone 5 (i.e., occupations requiring more than a bachelor’s degree). Study implications suggest that improved training and assessment of workplace English communication skills requires providing learners with opportunities to practice the tasks and types of communication targeted to their job zones.”

Peltola, A. (2018). The classroom as think tank: Small groups, authentic exercises, and instructional scaffolding in an advanced writing course. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, (30)2, 322–333. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“A recent (2015) study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Managers concluded that nearly half of US employers, across industries, believe recent college graduates to be lacking in requisite competencies for communication, broadly, and writing, in particular. This paper describes an advanced writing course in public relations that seeks to ameliorate this proficiency gap by using experiential learning modules, small group learning methods, authentic exercises, and instructional scaffolding techniques to improve student writing and promote workplace readiness. The module series, Writer's Bootcamp, is a short, intensive, and rigorous collaborative among students and instructor aimed at shaping independence and aptitude in writing. Authentic exercises, derived from real-time, real-world situations, were assigned. Students in small groups worked together to appropriate the piece (from the PR Toolbox, a collection of trade writing), collaboratively script, and present a response in thirty minutes. An assessment of learning outcomes involving the programmatic writing rubric, critical incident reports (verbal), and a reflection instrument (written) indicates the Bootcamp as engaging, gratifying, and transformative by students. Limitations are discussed followed by implications for teaching and learning in upper-level, pre-professional writing courses.”

Strong, M. H., Burkholder, G. J., Solberg, E. G., Stellmack, A., Presson, W. D. & Seitz, J. (2020). Development and validation of a global competency framework for preparing new graduates for early career professional roles. Higher Learning Research Communications, (10)2, 67–115. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Objectives: The current objectives include the development of a global competency model applicable across a wide range of jobs, industries, and geographies for university graduates entering the workplace. Method: The competency model was developed utilizing a global panel of subject matter experts and a validation survey of over 25,000 students, faculty, staff, and employers across more than 30 countries. Results: The results showed substantial consistency for the importance and criticality ratings of the competencies, with Achieving Objectives, Analyzing and Solving Problems, Adapting to Change, Communicating Orally, Learning and Self-Development, Making Decisions, Planning and Organizing, and Working Well with Others as the highest-rated competencies across regions, roles, and industries. Conclusions: The most important competencies for students entering the workforce were consistent across different jobs, different industries, and different countries. The diversity and varied experience levels of the sample provide greater generalizability than most competency modeling projects that are often idiosyncratic to specific roles, industries, subjects, or levels. Implication for Theory and/or Practice: University faculty and staff can use the results of the validation study to develop curricula and programs that will be better able to foster important competencies to ensure that their students are better prepared to enter the workplace. Although some organizations emphasize leadership as important for all professional employees, Managing the Work of Others, Leading Others, and Influencing Others were consistently rated lower in importance by employers across all roles and regions and may not be appropriate as the primary focus of skill development for new graduates.”

Tornau, K., & Frese, M. (2013). Construct clean-up in proactivity research: A meta-analysis on the nomological net of work-related proactivity concepts and their incremental validities. Applied Psychology, 62(1), 44–96. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The overall goal of the meta-analytic review of the most frequently studied proactivity concepts–personal initiative, proactive personality, taking charge, and voice–was cleaning up the number and overlap of proactivity constructs and examining their construct validity. We provide a unifying framework for proactivity theory and a nomological net. We studied 163 independent samples (N = 36,079). The meta-analysis found high correlations between proactive personality and personal initiative/personality. Further, there were strong relationships between voice, taking charge, and personal initiative/behavior. For construct clean-up, we suggest that the two proactive personality constructs can be taken as functionally equivalent and that this is also true to some extent for the three proactive behavior constructs–the latter signify proactive behavior. All proactive concepts showed clear correlations with performance (from .13 to .34 depending upon construct and objectivity level of performance). However, the proactive personality concepts were also highly correlated with the Big Five personality factors and showed very low to no incremental validity for work performance; this is contradictory to prior meta-analyses on proactive personality and is discussed in detail. In contrast, proactive behavior scales (personal initiative/behavior, taking charge, and voice) predicted job performance well above and beyond personality.”

Visher, M. G., Altuna, J. N. & Safran, S. (2013). Making it happen: How career academies can build college and career exploration programs. MDRC. Retrieved from

From the executive summary:

“The phrase ‘preparing students for college and career’ has become so ubiquitous that it has become almost a mantra in educators’ discourse in recent years. Whether mentioned in the Common Core State Standards, in the mission statements of high schools, or in political campaigns, improving the college and career readiness of young people is a concept that few can disagree with. Much attention has focused on how to prepare students ‘academically’ for life after high school. But ‘readiness’ also means having the knowledge and skills to make informed choices about careers and postsecondary education options and–once graduated–to successfully navigate both worlds. High schools are expected to teach these skills and knowledge but are rarely given the guidance or tools to do so. With a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education, MDRC and its project partner Bloom Associates developed and piloted a program to help schools build or strengthen their college and career exploration programs. Called ‘Exploring Career and College Options (ECCO),’ the program was designed specifically for career academies but can be adapted to fit many educational settings. ‘Career academies’ are schools within schools that enroll up to several hundred students. They are organized by a career theme, such as health sciences or media arts. Besides regular high school courses, career academy students enroll in a sequence of career-technical courses centering on the theme area. Finally, students participate in internships and other experiences in workplaces–which is often called ‘work-based learning’–to reinforce the connections between what they learn in the classroom and their future careers. An earlier random assignment study of career academies conducted by MDRC demonstrated the effectiveness of the model. Over the years, as the number of career academies grew, the parallel pressure to ensure that all students meet high academic standards inadvertently crowded out time for career exploration activities–the very activities that nonexperimental evidence from the MDRC study suggests may have played an instrumental role in causing the large increases in earnings that career academy participants experienced over the eight-year period following high school graduation. Career academies typically cite a lack of time, skills, and resources as the reason for not offering such activities to all of their students. ECCO is a capacity-building program to help career academies offer opportunities to students to learn about their workplace and postsecondary options through four core components: (1) a series of one-hour in-class lessons; (2) visits to local work sites; (3) visits to college campuses; and (4) a six-week internship offered to all students in the summer before or during their senior year. The curriculum includes guidance for educators on how to arrange and manage students’ out-of-school experiences as well as guides for partnering employers. This report summarizes findings from a three-year study of the implementation of the ECCO program. ECCO was launched in 18 career academies in six school districts in three states: (1) California; (2) Florida; and (3) Georgia. The purposes of the study are to document the experiences of these schools in adopting the program and to assess the extent to which, when given support and resources, programs like ECCO can be fully implemented. The study also collected descriptive data to assess the promise of the program to improve student participation in career and college exploration activities and to improve their awareness of postsecondary options.”

Additional Resources to Consult

American School Counselor Association (ASCA):

From the website:

“The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) supports school counselors’ efforts to help students focus on academic, career and social/emotional development so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society. ASCA provides professional development, publications and other resources, research and advocacy to school counselors around the globe.”

ASCA National Standards for Students. (2004). Retrieved from:
From the introduction:

“Professional school counselors everywhere proudly share the same simple vision – to prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s adults. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) not only supports this idea, it has made it the Association’s mission. Educational reform movements of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, such as standards-based education and the No Child Left Behind legislation, focused on raising teacher quality and academic achievement. Unfortunately, these efforts ignored the emotional, physical, social and economic barriers that can inhibit student success. This is where school counselors make a difference. School counselors are actively committed to eliminating these obstacles and to helping students understand that the choices they make now will affect their educational and career options in the future. ASCA National Standards for Students was established to help school counselors help students. ASCA National Standards identify and prioritize the specific attitudes, knowledge and skills that students should be able to demonstrate as a result of participating in a school counseling program. Best of all, by adopting and implementing ASCA National Standards, school counselors change the way school counseling programs are designed and delivered across our country.”

Battelle for Kids:

From the website:

“P21’s Frameworks for 21st Century Learning were developed with input from teachers, education experts, and business leaders to define and illustrate the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in work and life, as well as the support systems necessary for 21st century learning outcomes. They have been used by thousands of educators and hundreds of schools in the U.S. and abroad to put 21st century skills at the center of learning.”

Community Economic Development:

From the website:

“Community Economic Development (CED) is a federal grant program funding Community Development Corporations that address the economic needs of low-income individuals and families through the creation of sustainable business development and employment opportunities.”

Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board. (2018). Building supports for successful transitions into the workforce: Community conversations with business leaders & parents. Retrieved from
From the executive summary:

“In 2017, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) embarked upon a ‘listening tour’ of business leaders and parents to discuss firsthand information about workplace demands and aspirations for high school graduates. With generous funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the listening tour made stops in five communities over the course of a year: Oakland, California; Westfield, Massachusetts; Tupelo, Mississippi; Marysville, Ohio; and Norfolk, Virginia. In each community, 90-minute facilitated discussions were conducted to identify strategies for increasing the effectiveness of business engagement, and to identify the information and supports parents need to ensure student success in the workplace’and to leave each community with a potential path for continued dialogue. There were striking similarities across all five communities from coast to coast when examining the goals and aspirations for students shared by parents and business leaders. Strategies often aligned, as well. Yet, each group brought a distinct perspective that reflected the culture and values of the community, as well as the economic landscape. In examining the ideas shared by participants, the underlying theme is unmistakable: There is a significant gap between what parents and employers want, and what high schools are delivering. This report provides a brief overview of the importance of career readiness, describes the methodology of the listening tour, highlights the findings from each of the five communities, and concludes with recommendations for how communities nationwide can advance career readiness efforts.”

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

From the website:

“Advancing the scientific base for social and emotional learning (SEL) through research has been the hallmark of CASEL’s work since our founding. We do that by synthesizing the research of others, conducting original research, and spotlighting recent research from our colleagues and collaborators.”


Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “21st century skills”
  • “employment potential”
  • “non-academic” + indicators + “career development”
  • “non-academic” + indicators + “workplace success”
  • “social emotional learning” + “career development”
  • “social emotional learning” + “workplace success”
  • “soft skills” + “workplace success”
  • “workplace readiness skills”

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching for and reviewing references, REL Central considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2011 and 2021.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.