Regional Organization Headed to South Carolina to Showcase Employability Skills Assessment Tool


It is the refrain of almost every business owner/employer in Nova Scotia, Canada and beyond: I can teach my employees to work a cash register, mop a floor, make a bed, work a grill, etc., but there are also soft skills that I can’t necessarily teach them.  Often, for many reasons, soft skills such as motivation, accountability, patience and congeniality toward co-workers and customers can take time to develop.  Employers naturally seek staff that take pride in their work, have the know-how to handle high-pressure situations, are punctual and will ensure that tasks are completed. However, for some, these are barriers to employment.

While these may seem like straight forward aspects of employment to incorporate into employee training, the fact of the matter is they are not.  Helping people attain these skills is an incredibly complex task. With that said, Futureworx is not only teaching these soft skills to clients, we’ve been doing it for years with an incomparable success rate.

Since 1984, Futureworx, based in Truro, has been taking in clients that have multiple employment barriers and preparing them for the workplace. The technical aspects of the preparation vary from program to program. We cover and have covered everything from cleaning and environmental services, front-line health care, hotel work, light carpentry and others. What remains the constant with each program are the soft skills; attitude, motivation, presentation, teamwork, time management, adaptability, stress management, accountability and confidence. These soft skills may look different from workplace to workplace. For example, a person responsible for cleaning a hotel likely isn’t going to dress the same as someone working in an office setting. However, there are still certain expectations in place and, at the end of the day, the employee should take pride in their appearance, regardless of specific dress codes. It was with this in mind that Futureworx wanted to ensure that all clients were receiving the same training in these areas regardless of the location and the instructor. Out of this came the concept for the Employability Skills Assessment Tool, or ESAT.

Development of ESAT started in 2010 as an internal tool for Futureworx instructors to document a client’s soft skill levels and to clearly track and show growth and/or retraction in these levels. The idea behind the tool is that you can’t expect a person to have these soft skills if they have never needed to use them in their past or present work environments or were never told that they were lacking in these areas. Through a series of self-assessments and assessments by others (e.g.: instructors, counsellors, case workers) based on observations over a period of time, clients can clearly see their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the aforementioned soft skills. Easy to follow results and graphics promote meaningful conversations that lead to overall improvements. Since its development as an internal tool, we’ve branched out and ESAT is now being used by organizations throughout Nova Scotia and Canada. Kate Apestiguy is with Youth Live, a work experience program for 16 to 24 year olds with barriers to employment in Halifax.

“ESAT depersonalizes the process and looks at what the issue is. And these issues are really things that aren’t that difficult to overcome, it just needs to be brought to their attention. Once clients are provided with the coaching, support and follow up, we’ve had good success!”

John Hartling is the General Manager with Stone Hearth Bakery, a social enterprise operating in Halifax. As many as 50 people are employed at the bakery at any given time. He calls ESAT ‘a very valuable resource.’

“Part of the confusion that some of our clients have faced in the past is understanding exactly why people won’t employ them or why they’re getting laid off or their hours are being cut. I find ESAT has been an incredibly useful tool to articulate what your attitude really means. If someone says you have a bad attitude, it’s really hard for people to define that and understand what it is they have to change. ESAT helps them figure that out. There’s no doubt in my mind that the return on investment will be well in excess of the cost of integrating ESAT.”

Colleen Penner is the Director of Programming with Opportunities for Employment in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The organization recently completed an update report on the integration of ESAT into one of their projects. The results are right in line with our assertions about the program.

“The use of the ESAT in OFE’s Employment Mentorship Program continues to highlight the effectiveness of the employment preparation curriculum and provide an effective coaching tool for facilitating behavioural change over time,” said Penner. ESAT has enabled our facilitators and Employment Coach to strategically target those employability skills which will be most problematic as the participant enters the work force, which will result in longer job retention for participants and less turnover costs for employers. One of the most intriguing outcomes of ESAT is the degree to which we may be able to predict the chances of success for individuals when it comes to obtaining and keeping a job. As OFE continues to evolve its programing to better serve individuals and employers, it will be very exciting to imagine how ESAT will enhance our services and prepare individuals for success in the workplace.”

Employers are definitely noticing the difference ESAT makes. Ric McKinstry, with Shannex, says Futureworx students are given the tools needed to succeed before ever hitting the workplace.

“It’s very easy to see the Futureworx students in a room full of people. It’s very easy to pick them out. They come to us with that good foundation and the things Shannex needs. It’s a great advantage to this industry.”

Because of the success of ESAT, Futureworx was recently chosen to present at the 2015 ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Literacy in Charleston, South Carolina. This marks the first international presentation for the organization, but we’re certain it will not be the last. South Carolina has been hit hard with record level devastation in recent days. We would be remiss not to acknowledge what this region is dealing with at the moment and we at Futureworx recognize that it will be sometime before this area resumes life as they knew it before the storm. We wish them all the best as the rebuilding gets underway in earnest. The people of South Carolina and other areas impacted are in our hearts and minds as we prepare to travel there. We’re also in contact with interested operations in places as far away as Australia.

The implementation possibilities for ESAT are endless. It is cloud-based, can be accessed anywhere there’s an internet connection and the subject matter and skill set can be changed to fit any employer or organization. We’ve often heard employers ask why soft skills aren’t being taught in high school, college and university and we couldn’t agree more! ESAT, with very minor adjustments, could easily be implemented into any curriculum, letting students know what is expected of them once they enter the workplace. Imagine the frustration that could be alleviated by having students that are aware of that. It’s a win-win, created by a small Nova Scotia non-profit that sees the potential in everyone, regardless of their situation.

This Op-Ed piece has been created by Futureworx under the direction of Executive Director Randy Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay has worked in the field of employability skills and support since 1988, helping countless individuals and organizations throughout those years.