Essential Employability Skills

Essential Employability Skills (EES) are skills that, regardless of a student’s program, are critical for success in the workplace, day-to-day living, and for lifelong learning. The EES are organized into 6 categories (Communication, Numeracy, Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Information Management, Interpersonal, and Personal) and articulate 11 learning outcomes.

The EES are grounded in the following fundamental assumptions:

  • The 11 skills are important for every adult to function successfully in society today;
  • Colleges are well equipped and well positioned to prepare graduates with these 11 skills; and
  • These 11 skills are equally valuable for all graduates, regardless of the level of their credential, whether they pursue a career path, or pursue further education.

What programs are required to teach and assess the EES?

All students graduating from an Ontario College Certificate, Diploma or Advanced Diploma must be able to reliably demonstrate the EES by the end of their program (Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU)).

At Durham College, we have a longstanding practice of including EES in courses for Ontario College Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma programs as we believe these skills are equally valuable for all graduates.

What is the best way to introduce EES to students?

At the start of a course, it is important for all faculty to provide a clear and meaningful overview to students of how each EES is taught and evaluated in the course. Providing students with examples and quotes from employers or graduates, personal work experience, and job descriptions are valuable teaching tools. Research on job skill needs and requirements, hiring practices, and an overview of the roles and responsibilities within your discipline are also excellent ways to help students connect to these skills.

How do I determine which EES to include in my course outline?

Selecting relevant EES begins with analyzing how each course contributes to the overall set of EES outcomes across a program. For example, a first semester business course might prepare students to demonstrate foundational level business writing skills and a final semester business course might prepare students to demonstrate advanced writing, research and analytical skills.

Where can I find additional resources on EES?

Talk to colleagues and ask for sample assignments, marking criteria, and rubrics. Visit us or email us at We have many additional samples and tools that we can share. Use the following resource as a guide.


communications image

Communication skills include responding to written, spoken or visual messages in a clear, concise, and correct manner that best suits the context and audience. Communication includes skills related to reading, listening, and observing messages contained within narrative and visual forms. It also includes visual representations of information or data.

The two communication EES are:

  1. Communicate clearly, concisely and correctly in the written, spoken and visual form that fulfills the purpose and meets the needs of the audience
  2. Respond to written, spoken, or visual messages in a manner that ensures effective communication

What are the defining skills included in communication?

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Visual Literacy
  • Responding to questions and feedback

How can students demonstrate communication skills?

  • Develop and use strategies to read, listen and observe effectively.
  • Clarify what has been read, heard, and observed.
  • Reproduce or summarize original information in other formats.
  • Plan and organize written or oral communication according to a specific purpose and audience.
  • Incorporate content that is meaningful and necessary.
  • Produce material that conforms to the conventions of the chosen format.
  • Ensure material is free from mechanical errors.

What are some active learning strategies and tools?

  • Use active learning strategies to practice reading, listening and observation skills: Think-Pair-Share, Cocktail Party, Travelling File, Twitter discussions, and Q&A sessions.
  • Use a variety of writing activities to summarize information: Discussion posts, Minute Paper, Learning Jigsaw (go to activities) and blogging or podcasting using WordPress, Blogger and Podomatic.
  • Initiate a Three Word Wednesday: provide 3 words for students to begin a story, respond to or discuss with fellow classmates.
  • Create an image with words on PicLits or use Five Frame Story: provide images to students, or have students provide them to one another, and ask students to create a story using the images.
  • Record responses to questions and problems for self or peer assessment using Audacity.
  • Use Flipgrid or Plinky to have students respond to random questions/scenarios.
  • Use Bongo Video Assignment, VoiceThread, Animoto or AdobeVoice - AdobeSpark to provide written, audio or video response options for students.

What are some examples of grading criteria used to evaluate communication skills?

  • During a presentation or report, students can demonstrate using language which is appropriate for the intended audience, accurate use of terminology, and being clear and audible.
  • During a practical demonstration, students can demonstrate their use of specific communication techniques such as following legal proceedings, completion of a structured health assessment, interviewing, and following industry operating procedures or standards.
  • During presentations, students can be evaluated on eye contact, verbal pace, body language, and effective use of non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, posture, and gestures.
  • In the production of written material such as with case studies, reports, or worksheets, students can be evaluated for accuracy, correct use of terminology, completeness, legibility and following a specific writing style or standard procedure.
  • In the production of written material, students can be evaluated using common grading criteria in a report or in the inclusion of the correct use of APA/MLA format, following standardized writing processes, and is free of errors.

What are some examples of assignments where communication skills can be evaluated?

  • Written papers, reports, charts, case studies, memos, emails or essays.
  • Portfolios, articles, and projects.
  • Demonstrations including verbal and/or written descriptions of tasks and steps.
  • Role playing or simulation such as mock client interactions or interviews.
  • Oral or audiovisual presentations.


numeracy image

Numeracy requires the ability to apply a wide variety of mathematical skills accurately. In each program, the type and level of numeracy will vary with the specific types of math requirements needed to perform in their industry. Students may need to demonstrate the ability to apply the concept of number and space to situations that include quantities, magnitudes, measurements, and ratios. They may need to apply mathematical techniques (concepts, conventions, strategies, and operations) and check the results of their applications.

The numeracy EES is:

  1. Execute mathematical operations accurately

What are the defining skills included in numeracy?

  • Applying mathematical concepts and reasoning
  • Analyzing and using numerical data
  • Conceptualizing
  • Adapting and combining method to solve problems
  • Estimating
  • Calculating

What are some active learning strategies and tools?

  • Develop alternate visual representations of mathematical problems/concepts using concept maps, mind maps, chart or us.
  • Calibrate, adjust, problem solve, calculate, fix, correct, and troubleshoot equipment or tools with numeric measures, percentages, ratios, apertures, degrees, fractions, integers, etc.
  • Calculate, adjust, and create varying scales, angles and perspective in art, design, or various types of media.
  • Work collaboratively on case studies or simulations answering questions related to projections, trend analysis, or statistical analysis.
  • Create invoices, budgets, and financial records using collaborative tools such as Google Docs.
  • Use the Big Simple Talking Calculator or create a number jigsaw to make calculations more fun.
  • Create ongoing calculations, e.g., students calculating their own course mark.
  • Post multiple math problems on a Padlet wall or plot equations using the Function Visualizer.
  • Use StudyMate to create crossword puzzles, flash cards and other types of quizzing.
  • Post a Numeracy Challenge of the Week to encourage continued engagement in and applications of mathematical concepts or strategies.

What are some examples of grading criteria for numeracy skills?

  • In foundational courses and assignments, professors will often grade students on the fundamentals and elemental concepts, applying common terms and functions, using technological tools to assist with calculations.
  • In intermediate or higher level courses and assignments, students are expected to link what is already known to new learning, apply basic concepts in unfamiliar situations or apply new concepts in familiar situations, convert data, and/or select the correct approach or formula.
  • In higher level courses and assignments, students will often be required to extend the application of what they already know. They could be asked to apply new or existing learning to areas beyond the classroom, analyze data, make hypotheses, adapt to new scenarios, and solve complex problems.

What are common assignments used to evaluate numeracy EES?

  • Budgets, financial plans, computer programs, and lab assignments are common assignments used to evaluate EES in many programs at Durham College.
  • Patient/Client assessments, clinical case studies, and case studies are often used to evaluate numeracy in health, emergency, community and some applied science courses and programs.
  • Technical and applied science lab and shop courses will commonly use worksheets, checklists, reports, and demonstrations to assess a wide variety of numeracy skills.
  • Field placement courses will often require students to demonstrate numeracy by solving a variety of problems, calculations, planning client care plans, or when completing industry documentation and reports.

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

man with lightbulb in hand

Critical thinking skills involve evaluating information and opinions in a systematic, analytical, and efficient manner. Problem solving involves finding alternative solutions or alternative methods for providing solutions to address a question, issue, or situation. Critical thinking and problem solving involves assessment and analysis in breaking down component parts of a problem; evaluation of the component parts to determine best practice or solution; and the analytical skills to purposefully make connections, transfer knowledge and methods to find alternative ways to generate solutions or  suggest a new approach. It can include using new or existing information in innovative and creative ways, identifying unique relationships, and having the opportunity to practice different ways of thinking to yield new approaches.

The critical thinking and problem solving EES are:

  1. Apply a systematic approach to solve problems
  2. Use a variety of thinking skills to anticipate and solve problems

What are the defining skills in critical thinking and problem solving?

  • Analyzing
  • Synthesizing
  • Categorizing
  • Evaluating
  • Making decisions
  • Trouble‐shooting
  • Applying a problem solving model
  • Thinking creatively
  • Sequencing
  • Prioritizing
  • Investigating
  • Justifying

What are some active learning strategies and tools?

  • Use structured in-class or online discussions that require critical and analytical thinking to solve problems or logic puzzles.
  • Use games (So You Think You Can…, Are You Smarter Than…, Wheel of…, etc.) to judge the credibility and validity of ideas, concepts, and/or solutions.
  • Use Mind map or concept map solutions to analyze and organize the key components of a problem, question, case, or issue.
  • Create case studies to analyze and solve.
  • Analyze a real-world situation to devise alternative solutions, evaluate the leveraged solution, or construct a solution and compare it to the employed solution.
  • Use Dragster to reassemble the parts of an answer to a puzzling question, list, process a set of principles or steps in a problem, etc.
  • Evaluate a product, website, service, or company using a set of criteria.
  • Hold a Moot Court debate or have students Take a Stand (go to activities) on an issue or problem.
  • Create online learning activities that require analysis, such as Choose Your Own Adventure.
  • Use Visio to develop flowcharts to illustrate solution paths or potential outcomes.

What are some examples of grading criteria for critical thinking and problem solving?

  • In a foundational course or assignment, ask students to distinguish between fact, opinion, and assumption, list key areas of a problem, articulate the steps of problem solving, define key terminology of problem solving and critical thinking, and identify standard critical and creative thinking strategies.
  • In an intermediate level course or assignment ask students to apply existing methods and models of problem-solving to new situations, analyze a problem, prioritize problems, use critical thinking to distinguish relevant data, account for perceptions and biases, and adapt strategies to overcome obstacles in critical thinking.
  • In a more complex or advanced course or assignment, ask students to demonstrate the effectiveness of a solution, select and apply the most appropriate method, refine problem-solving skills by recommending solutions or best practice, or apply new and existing methods and models to new or different contexts.
  • Additional criteria commonly used when assessing critical thinking include use of logic, having a sound argument, using valid and reliable evidence to support decisions, and consideration of opposing views. Check out the Value Rubrics from American Association of Colleges and Universities.

What are some common assignments used to evaluate critical thinking and problem solving?

  • There are a wide variety of commonly used assessments that can be used to evaluate critical thinking and problem solving skills including case study analysis, research projects, proposals, portfolios, lab assignments, presentations, and simulation.
  • Field placement, practicum, or clinical experience are also commonly used to evaluate critical thinking and problem solving. Often secondary information from industry supervisors or practicum supervisors are used to determine successful achievement of these skills.
  • Cross-curriculum assignments (part A of assignment completed in one course, part B in a second course), program portfolios (create a portfolio from first semester to final semester), and collaborative webpages are excellent ways for students to demonstrate these EES over time.
  • Student led projects such as when students plan and implement campus-events, community events, business project, applied research projects are excellent ways to demonstrate the integration of higher-level thinking skills and abilities including critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Observational assignments (for practicum or field placement) from an entry level course can be used as analytical case studies for higher level courses. Students compare the solutions they developed to the solution leveraged in the real-world example and then they analyze the variation.

Information Management

folder and magnifying glass

Using computers and other technologies as tools to increase productivity and to enhance tasks requires graduates to have the confidence and ability to use the tools well. Developing the ability to recognize when computers and other technologies contribute to completing tasks, solving problems, performing research, and creating products is a critical survival skill of the future. Selecting and using appropriate tools and technology for a task or project, computer literacy, and gathering and managing information are all potential aspects of the Information Management skill set.

The information management EES are:

  1. Locate, select, organize, and document information using appropriate technology and information systems
  2. Analyze, evaluate, and apply relevant information from a variety of sources

What are the defining skills in information management?

  • Gathering and managing information and data.
  • Selecting and using appropriate tools and technology for a task or a project.
  • Applying computer literacy.
  • Using internet skills for a variety of purposes.
  • Conducting and evaluating research.

What are some active learning strategies and tools?

  • Retrieving and sharing activities that require students to locate and analyze relevant information such as, text summaries, interviewing experts, research scavenger hunts, Twitter posts, email, and webquests.
  • Computer literacy activities such as locating relevant information and searching within databases.
  • Organizing information into a flow chart, mind map or concept map.
  • Practicing different methods of completing research and using specified citation styles to reference resources.
  • Reviewing online note-taking tools such as Evernote.
  • Reviewing online source organization and citation tools, such as Zotero.

What are some examples of grading criteria for information management?

  • In foundational level courses and assignments, students can be evaluated on their ability to identify where information was found, define quality information, sort information, cite sources properly, and identify credible sources.
  • In intermediate level courses and assignments, students can be evaluated on their ability to choose effective information for the level of learning/assignment, compile information that will support a point of view, assess the type of information needed, prioritize information based on credibility, use a variety of tools and/or techniques to locate and organize information, and locate scholarly and reliable information.
  • In advanced courses and assignments, students can be evaluated on their ability to organize information, consolidate information into logical points, evaluate information for validity and relevance, and use search strategies in scenarios outside the classroom.

What are some common assignments used to evaluate information management?

  • Case studies, applied research, reports, research assignments, research plans, literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, and research-based projects are common assignments used to evaluate information management.
  • Students can also compile or curate information in a blog, online discussion forum, or any other web-based format.
  • Produce reports or other types of assignments in courses that use specialized software.
  • A Portfolio is an excellent way for students to demonstrate information management and can be introduced in one course or as part of a program/capstone portfolio project.


characters coming out of laptops to handshake

Working in teams or groups in either a work or personal context requires the ability to assume responsibility for collective duties and decisions. It also requires interacting effectively with the members of the group. The ability to understand and complete the various tasks required of them as group members, responding to others effectively, and developing effective working relationships are all components of the Interpersonal skill set.

Showing respect for the diverse opinions, values, belief systems and contribution of others requires an appreciation of the concepts of diversity, team work, relationships, conflict resolution, and leadership.

The two interpersonal EES are:

  1. Show respect for the diverse opinions, values, belief systems, and contributions of others
  2. Interact with others in groups or teams in ways that contribute to effective working relationships and the achievement of goals

What are the defining skills in the interpersonal EES?

  • Treating others equitably and fairly.
  • Resolving conflict.
  • Demonstrating leadership.
  • Networking, establishing and maintaining relationships.
  • Identifying roles for members of a group or team.
  • Clarifying one’s own role and fulfilling the role in a timely fashion.
  • Identifying tasks to be completed and establishing strategies to accomplish tasks.
  • Contributing one’s own ideas, opinions, and information while demonstrating respect for others.
  • Employing techniques intended to bring about the resolution of any conflicts.
  • Regularly assessing the group’s progress and interactions and making adjustments when necessary.
  • Valuing diversity, including using images, examples, and case studies from a variety of diverse perspectives.
  • Participating in peer and self-evaluation.
  • Negotiating differences of opinion so all parties feel respected and heard.
  • Using effective listening, negotiating, collaborating, and problem solving techniques during work in and outside of class.
  • Identifying different types of conflict that can arise in workplaces and strategies to resolve them.
  • Using neutral, respectful and inclusive language and images.

What are some active learning strategies and tools?

  • One of the most common ways to practice effective group work is to use a structured approach and design for an assignment. Using a group contract, role assignment, group reflection, peer assessment, group management tools, and task analysis are just a few of the tools students can use to practice these skills.
  • A wide variety of active learning strategies can be used to engage students in collaborative research, information management, analysis, or problem solving such as through role playing, debates, interviews, panel discussions, and DC Connect Discussion Board postings.
  • Case studies used in combination with reflective questions to determine how various roles can influence the outcome of an event or situation.
  • Conflict management learning activities or similar types of activities used in combination of self-assessment of strengths and areas for future growth.
  • Guest speakers provide a great opportunity for students to hear about opportunities, strengths, challenges and solutions to common work environments.
  • Discussing and analyzing daily news, industry trends, articles, legal proceedings, and research provides students with actual real-world challenges upon which to reflect, analyze, and pose suggestions and solutions.
  • Structured debriefs of videos, stories, articles and events can provide students with an opportunity to assess leadership, respect, team contributions, and conflict resolution strategies.
  • Use learning activities such as Four Corners to have students identify their own perspective and then swap to the opposite corner and present considerations for that perspective, developing a counter-argument, or using “what if” questions, assist students in appreciating situations or points through a different lens.
  • Working as part of team, establishing and respecting roles and responsibilities to complete a task or project develops conflict management, leadership and respect for the opinions and perspectives of others.

What some examples of grading criteria that can be used to evaluate interpersonal skills?

  • In foundational level courses and assignments, students can define and acknowledge diversity, list the common roles within a group, define respect for others, identify issues that could occur within a group, and participate as a team member.
  • In an intermediate level course and assignment, students can anticipate potential conflicts within a group, express opinion and respectfully listen to others, and develop strategies to accomplish goals within a group.
  • In a more advanced course and assignment, students can create and promote supportive environments, lead the team or group, assume accountability for self, others, and the group’s goals, evaluate completed group tasks to identify gaps, and network with others.

What are some common assignments used to evaluate interpersonal EES?

  • Group contracts, group or team assignments, group progress report, group/peer/self-evaluations, and group process analysis.
  • Observations and feedback from supervisors during Field placement or practicum provide valuable information on these skills.
  • Journals, reports, presentations, reflective essay, portfolios, and learning journals.
  • Research or reports on professionalism, analysis of industry trends about diversity, and ethical and leadership issues.
  • Evaluating scenarios or case studies that involve leadership, coaching, feedback and complex communication roles is an effective way to evaluate interpersonal skills.
  • Researching, developing and presenting an informed counter-perspective develops skills in conflict resolution, appreciating diversity and navigating differences.


deadline in calendar

Achieving task-related goals in their personal and professional lives requires students to use their time, money, space, and other, often limited, resources as efficiently as possible. Developing an ability to plan and predict ways of achieving goals is an important aspect of Personal skills. The ability to follow plans and use the tools, assessing regularly how realistic the goals, plans, and processes are and adapting when it is necessary are all important aspects of the Personal skill set.

The personal EES are:

  1. Manage the use of time and other resources to complete projects
  2. Take responsibility for one’s own actions, decisions, and consequences

What are the defining skills in Personal EES?

  • Managing self-including ethical behavior as an individual or as a group.
  • Defining reasonable and realistic goals and using planning tools to achieve and monitor goals.
  • Prioritizing and using resources efficiently to accomplish tasks.
  • Re-evaluating goals and using resources to make the appropriate adjustments.
  • Managing change in a flexible, adaptable way.
  • Analyzing labour-market trends that affect employability.
  • Conducting an effective work-search plan.
  • Taking responsibility for outcomes and effects of one’s own actions.
  • Participating in an ongoing process of personal reflection, including ongoing evidence of effort to improve.
  • Formulating personal choices and goals, based on self-assessment and career research.
  • Presenting on personal abilities, skills and interests accurately in a resume and an interview.

What are some active learning strategies and tools?

  • Articulate and implement course policies consistently to support adherence in lab environments, for example.
  • Integrate opportunities for individual choice, including options for assignment topics, presentation delivery and demonstration of learning.
  • Developing and completing an independent study, research project or experiment.
  • Adhere to a learning or project plan and contracted due dates.
  • Preparing schedules and timelines, and monitoring progress in working towards deadlines.
  • Pre-class activities that function as “passports” for entry to class.

What are some examples of grading criteria?

  • In a foundational course and assignment, students can identify goals and individual needs, describe the importance of completing and submitting assignments on time, and define responsibility as it applies to one’s self and the role of professional ethics.
  • In an intermediate course and assignment, students can create an action plan for growth from self-reflection, identify conflicts and propose solutions, and arrive prepared for class and meetings.
  • In an advanced course and assignment, students can complete multiple tasks, prioritize tasks, contribute to personal development for one’s self and others, complete assignments on time and/or advise of late submission with advanced notice, perform tasks ethically, and resolve conflicts professionally.

What are some common assignments used to evaluate personal EES?

  • Capstone and project-based assignments provide students with rich and complex assignments upon which to debrief, reflect, and self-assess. Students can use individual or group progress reports to analyze and reflect on their contribution to the ongoing success of a project or activity.
  • Reflective journals or portfolios are an excellent way to engage students in routine and regular self-assessment. Weekly monitoring records including using graphs, timelines, time charts, prioritization lists, and self-assessment can be included also to ensure that the students have ways to monitor their own personal skills and see trends.
  • Project Charters, Project Plans, meeting notes, action plans, Gantt charts, and other tools commonly used in project management serve as valuable assignments in a course with a project.
  • Students who work in labs, simulation environments, field placements, or practicum can be evaluated on their ability to practice within their scope of practice including adhering to professional standards and expectations.
  • Group, peer, and self-assessments are valuable ways to evaluate the Personal skills used by many professors as a routine part of all group assignments.
  • Develop learning goals or objectives and/or self-monitoring of learning plans.
  • Develop prioritized lists and step-by-step instructions prior to an activity.
  • Create a resource plan or allocate resources for a plan.
  • Analysis of ethical issues or assignments requiring decision-making, reports, and case studies.