Reflections on Employability Beyond 2020

Edalex recently had the opportunity to support research that Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver conducted on the topic of employability, culminating in the release of the whitepaper Rethinking Employability Beyond 2020: Ten Recommendations for Universities.

It’s very timely research, given the upheaval in education and employment around the world. Changes already underway have been dramatically accelerated due to COVID-19. For example, the International Labour Organisation calculated that reduced working hours in Q2 2020 resulting from COVID-19 led to the loss of the equivalent of 495 million jobs globally. Many of those reduced hours or lost roles will never be filled again. Fortunately, new and updated roles are being created, and companies and employees are exploring upskilling and reskilling. In fact, a recent survey by Talent LMS, the Training Journal and Workable found that 42% of employers had increased their upskilling and reskilling efforts during the coronavirus outbreak.

While Professor Oliver focused her research on the university sector, many of her findings also apply to other sectors. While the vocational sector has traditionally been more focused on competencies and industry connections, I believe there are still important insights for that sector, as well as secondary education.

At Edalex, we’ve certainly seen a keen focus on employability in more than 100 meetings we’ve had over the past several months with universities, TAFEs/community colleges, companies, and individuals around the globe. 

I applaud Professor Oliver for the breadth and impact of all 10 of her recommendations. I’d like to highlight 5 recommendations, slightly broadened beyond the university sector, and contextualised in our own discussions:

Recommendation 1: Adopt [an institution]-wide terminology and taxonomy for micro-credentials and test integration using a maturity model
This topic arises quite regularly, and rightfully so. While there is still a great deal of experimentation and piloting with micro-credentials, many institutions are developing their own model – or adapting one from other organisations. This is absolutely true in the vocational as well as university sectors. A seemingly simple question of “what is a micro-credential” is not always clearly or easily answered. Ultimately knowing what success looks like for the institution and the learners is essential.

Fortunately there are some great frameworks and models being developed and shared. In fact, consider not just the micro-credential model and frameworks; be sure to explore human capability and ability frameworks. We’ve learned so much from our discussions with experts in these areas – let us know if you’d like to learn more (that’s a topic for another blog in itself!)

Recommendation 2: Become more “labour market demand-driven”: find where jobs will grow, and align credentials
From our discussions, there is keen interest in surfacing workplace-relevant skills from the educational process, ultimately reflecting the demand from institutional customers – the learners – for these relevant soft and hard skills. Institutions spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars identifying, tracking and managing student learning outcomes.

The next step is connecting the educational activities to workplace skills. This process is greatly facilitated by resources such as the open Emsi Skills library, with more than 30,000 skills collected from hundreds of millions of job postings, resumes, and online profiles. The critical step that Professor Oliver is recommending is ultimately flipping the equation: don’t just connect existing courses to labour data. Let the labour market, and workplace-demanded skills, drive the credentials on offer.

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Recommendation 5: Become employability-focused employers: micro-credentials and employability pathways for staff
I found this one of the more interesting recommendations. Most of the organisations we meet with and engage with already conduct professional development for their staff, and many of them are starting to incorporate micro-credentials into them. A much smaller percentage, I believe, have truly transformed their workplace training for their staff into employment pathways “both within and beyond the sector.”

It is very difficult to focus on career development at a time when institutions are under increasing pressure, with redundancies across the sector – but this approach can ultimately benefit the staff, institution and students.

Recommendation 8: Provide learners with more granular records of achievement and incentivise lifelong curation of achievements
Definitely a topic near and dear to our hearts (given the personalised evidence Credentialate offers) not only in providing achievement- or competency-focused micro-credentials. Also in providing personalised, meaningful quantitative and qualitative evidence – ultimately bringing meaning to the credential for the learner as well as any viewers of the micro-credential. It used to hold true that a university degree was the currency to gain full-time employment.

With 54% of companies globally struggling to find employees with the proper skills using traditional credentials and work experience, that is no longer the case. Simply introducing micro-credentials without personalised evidence risks the same fate, given the lack of consistency, definitions and meanings of micro-credentials across institutions. It is critical to automate in order to manage personalised evidence at scale. Assume a prospective employer will only see one badge or micro-credential; does the micro-credential provide enough context to clarify the underlying skills, expertise or competency and what evidence does it provide on that learner?

Recommendation 10: Ensure learners are ready for work in a digital-first world, beyond borders and across time zones
This recommendation ultimately brings it all together, as the culmination of a leading drive for education for many. For Edalex, joining global initiatives such as the Open Skills Network is a way in which we can help to shape our vision for a “skills passport” that we each will carry with us, providing validated evidence of skills and competencies learned and earned through education (formal and informal), work, volunteering and other experiences.

I only selected 5 of Professor Oliver’s 10 recommendations, based on what resonated most with our focus and what we’ve heard during discussions around the globe. Undoubtedly organisations will prioritise certain ones first, based on impact, feasibility and capacity, given the upheaval in education. What are your top 5? Let us know in the comments!

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Rethinking Employability Beyond 2020 - Edalex Whitepaper on Skills, Upskilling and Education

Download the Whitepaper

Rethinking Employability Beyond 2020: Ten Recommendations for Universities

As the shift towards shorter, skills based and employment-focused micro-credentials builds momentum, education providers must strategically evolve their credentials and curriculum to meet demand.

This Whitepaper, by Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver, explores the drivers behind the the new meaning of employability and makes ten recommendations to help universities rethink how they can increase employability beyond 2020.

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