Individualized Learning Plans How-to Guide – Section I, Career Planning & Management, Career & Work-Readiness Skills

Career and Work-Readiness Skills

Career and work-readiness skills refer to the large range of soft skills that employers have identified as critical to being successful in finding and maintaining a job.  These skills include general personal qualities, personal habits, good work ethic, effective communication, punctuality, self-discipline, problem solving, organizational skills, teamwork, a willingness to accept supervision, and more. 

The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)’s 2011 publication, Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success, provides 30 specific soft skills activities for use by instructors and counselors. Skills to Pay the Bills organizes soft skills into six broad categories: Communication; Enthusiasm & Attitude; Teamwork; Networking; Problem Solving & Critical Thinking; and Professionalism. This subsection follows the same organization and provides links to the Skills to Pay the Bills activities.

Communication skills are important to everyone. They involve giving and receiving information, conveying ideas and opinions, and interacting with those around us.  Communication can be verbal (sounds, language, and tone of voice); aural (listening and hearing); non-verbal (facial expressions, body language); written (letters, emails, blogs, text messages, reports), and visual (signs, symbols, and pictures).  Communication involves both providing information to others and receiving and interpreting information from others.  Exploring and developing good communication skills are an important and appropriate part of each student’s self-exploration.  They also are ranked “first” by employers as “must have” skills and qualities. 

Sample ILP Activities

Enthusiasm & Attitude are a critical component of workplace and career success as well as one key to overall success and joy in life.  A job candidate who has a positive attitude and eagerness to tackle a new job usually will have an important advantage over one who is negative or disinterested.  Genuine enthusiasm and a positive attitude also are easier for a person to have, sustain, and grow if they are doing work that they truly enjoy, which is why this category is appropriate to consider as part of students’ career exploration.

Sample ILP Activities

Teamwork is another skill that is essential to workplace success.  Employers look for workers who can develop and contribute their own ideas, but also want employees who can work with others to create, develop, and implement projects and plans.  Teamwork involves building relationships and working with others through such means as contributing to groups with ideas, suggestions, and efforts; communicating and working cooperatively with others; having a sense of personal responsibility and a respect for different opinions, ideas, and preferences; and practicing the ability to participate in and support team-based decision-making.

Sample ILP Activities

Networking is central to finding a job – from a student’s summer job, to their first entry-level full-time work, and throughout their career advancement.  When it comes to finding a job – it’s not what you know, so much as who you know – that is often the key to success.  Networking for the purpose of finding a job or advancing a career involves talking with friends, family members and acquaintances about one’s goals, interests, and dreams.  Most people actually learn about job openings through friends, relatives, neighbors, or others who are part of their personal network, and because each person in a network has a further network of their own, the potential for contacts can grow exponentially. 

Sample ILP Activities

Problem Solving & Critical Thinking represent a fifth key skill that is needed and valued by employers as they seek to maintain and expand their businesses in a competitive environment that is often global in today’s world.  Problem solving and critical thinking involve the ability to use formal education and training, past experience, data, and other information to assess and resolve challenges and problems, especially those that arise in the workplace.  Employers look for employees who can work through problems on their own, or as part of a team; employees who can think critically and creatively, sharing thoughts, opinions, and using good judgment to make ethical decisions.

Sample ILP Activities

Professionalism is the sixth key “soft skill” that employers look for and value.  Professionalism isn’t one thing, but a combination of qualities, including arriving on time for work and managing time effectively, as well as looking clean and neat and dressing appropriately for the job.  It also involves high quality work standards, honesty, and integrity plus communicating effectively and appropriately at the workplace.  Professionalism encompasses all of the other soft skills areas, but in a broader framework.

Sample ILP  Activities

Skills to Pay the Bills concludes with a section on "A Word About Social Networking" and "Cyber Resource – Cyber Smart."

ODEP designed the curriculum in Skills to Pay the Bills using universal design for learning principles, recognizing that students have a wide variety of skills, talents, interests, and needs. Throughout the curriculum, attention is given to improving access and service delivery to youth with disabilities. “Through the Lens of Universal Design for Learning in Skills” in Skills to Pay the Bills provides suggested strategies for supporting diverse learners participating in the curriculum’s activities.

In addition to educators and other professionals who contributed to the development of this publication, recognition is also given to the more than 100 young adults who contributed their insights for this curriculum.

State-Based Career & Work-Readiness Resources to Consider

A sample of the state-based resources for teaching career and work-readiness skills follows:


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