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Using the Occupational Network Database to Assess and Improve English Language Communication for the Workplace

Oliveri, Maria Elena; McCulla, Laura
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
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Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Workforce Readiness, Occupational Information Network (O*NET), Communication Skills, Language Ability, Knowledge Skills and Abilities (KSA), Questionnaires, Workplace English, Workplace Skills


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.

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