What Learners Need from Employability - Credentialate Guide
All degrees are not created equal, and employers know that. They also know that just because a...
What do current learner and graduate outcomes look like? From a societal perspective, what are we getting for our education spending? And are these acceptable given the needs of the new global economy? In this information-rich Credentialate Guide, we will look at what data we have from countries that collect and publish graduate outcome data - including Australia, the UK, the EU, and the United States - and explore how learner and graduate outcomes align with learner expectations and future workforce needs.
Recently, Liz Ryan, founder, and CEO of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap: Righteous Recruiting; Red Blooded HR conducted a poll on Linkedin. The post was simple: “The world is changing fast. Is a four-year college degree (at current tuition rates) still a good financial investment?”
There were nearly 24,000 responses, and 59% of them said “No.” If nothing else, this tells us that confidence in the value of four-year degrees is low. Note that in this poll, with primarily US respondents, the caveat was at current tuition rates. In the comments, nearly 600 of them, respondents talked about ways to reduce tuition, the value of trade, vocational education and more.
As we turn our Lens on Learners, we need to look at some very important things: the first of which is, “What are graduates getting from those four-year degrees?” The answer must be from a data perspective, and answer some basic questions:
In this guide, we will look at what data we have available from various different countries with graduate outcome data, including Australia, the UK, the EU, and the United States. It is important to understand that while similar, these education systems do differ, and outcomes are different in countries where a college or university education is not readily available or a viable option.
Also, all of this publicly available data is from more traditional education frameworks of universities and colleges. It does not include the data from trade, vocational schools or other programs - otherwise it would be a much longer piece...
The questions we are trying to address with this data are easy to state yet quite complex to solve:
With that, let’s take a deep dive into some data.
The growing number of learners
Before we go further, it's important to understand the scale of the growing number of learners. This growth is not only driven by younger people entering school, but by workers who are displaced or underemployed re-entering the education system. In fact, according to HolonIQ, there will be 2 billion more learners in the marketplace by 2050.
Can the current system handle this growth, and where will those learners get their skills? The answer, which we will discuss in detail later in this series, is not unless things change. And educators realise this. According to HolonIQ, a majority of educators expect disruption in their education area in the next 24 months, and over half feel the current conditions for global education are either moderately or substantially worse than they were six months ago.
In the meantime, graduates are still completing degree programs, and making decisions about what’s next. Are they graduating with the skills they need to be employable and are they getting jobs?
The first question we will answer is: Are graduates employed full time? What this really means is debatable, and we will discuss that further later on. The reason is the difference between being employable and employed: a graduate could be employable with all the skills they need, but could choose to not be employed for any number of reasons: a gap year, travel, caring for an ill loved one, or others.
First, the Australian Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) for 2020 shows the following results:
In Europe, we have less recent data assembled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). This year’s numbers have yet to be released, but in the most recent graduate activities survey, we note the following:
In the United States, according to the most comprehensive data assembled by the National Association for Colleges and Employers, we find the following data for 2019.
First, at the Bachelor's Level, the results show:
When we look at the Master’s level, the results do change significantly:
Even in this first section, we see an issue with the data: we are not always comparing apples to apples when it comes to global data, and for some areas, the data is challenging to find and interpret, but what we can say from what we see here:
So where available, let’s look at what graduates who are employed are earning. This opens the door to the discussion: “Was your education worth it?”
This broader question is somewhat tainted: cost of living and therefore wages differ greatly from one location to another, even within a given country. Another factor to consider is currency exchanges - each country reports in their own currency. Again, we are not always comparing identical information in the data available. However, despite this disparity, the mean results are remarkably consistent:
By looking at the PESCO data provided by the US Census Bureau the differences by location and occupation become even more pronounced. This set of data also includes graduate salaries 5-years post-graduation and 10-years post-graduation, at least for those still employed in the same field. The data from the most recent census is still being analysed, so the entire data set is not yet available. This creates a problem with this data for general use: it is focused on specific institutions and only data from select states, so does not reflect an overall federal trend.
The UK data provided by HESA also goes deeper in some areas, by occupation, field of study, and more. A deeper dive in specific occupations reveals some interesting data and indicates the highest entry levels of pay in veterinary and human medicine.
Are these college degrees serving the learner well? The answer is, “it depends.” The factors include, but are not limited to:
Some of the data appears to show us that for those who seek certificates or graduate degrees, earnings, and the likelihood of being employed in their chosen field go up. This leads us nicely to the next learner outcome: "Are graduates seeking further education before embarking on a career."
Once again, data in different areas is defined differently, but we can determine some clear trends by looking at the overall picture.
Looking at the UK HESA data, perhaps the most detailed of the information available, we see from 74,470 respondents, some interesting trends in those who are going further.
What about job-related training? The OECD reveals that a mean of around 16% of adult learners participated in job-related training and wanted more. A mean of 30% received training and didn’t want anymore, and around 15% did not participate but wanted to. The remainder of adult learners who participated in the survey did not participate in job-related training and didn’t want to.
The takeaway? Just under 1 in 5 graduates with an undergrad degree are pursuing some kind of further education. When they do, earnings and the likelihood of full-time employment in their chosen field go up as well.
But for those who are not working, why not? We will look at that next.
We mentioned early on that there are a variety of reasons learners might not be employed even given the fact that they are technically employable. This difference is the very reason that no country will ever have true “zero unemployment.” Willful unemployment and even underemployment will always play a role, along with the three unemployment factors:
However, when we look specifically at graduates we see a number of reasons they don’t take employment right away, and they seem to be the same regardless of country, and come in this order:
In other words, the majority of those “unemployed” are either employable and seeking employment or delaying it for some reason, or they are seeking more education so they become more employable.
But perhaps one of the most telling of indicators is learner satisfaction.
This one will be short because regardless of where surveys are taken, the results are nearly identical. Sort of. Let’s break the data down:
On the surface, these look like numbers that are not too bad, until you flip them around and realize around 7% don’t find their learning outcome meaningful, and 12% say their current situation does not fit with their future goals. Again, perhaps the most revealing is that when asked if they are utilising what they learned during their studies in their current situation, nearly 20% disagree or strongly disagree.
And while money can’t buy you happiness, those with more permanent employment and higher salaries display a higher level of satisfaction with their learning, and also feel their current activity is more aligned with their plans for the future.
As interesting as this data is, drawing conclusions is a bit challenging. First of all, not all of the most recent data is available, and not all of the data speaks the same language. Does this sound familiar? When we talk about education, we talk about translating between frameworks, and when we look at graduate outcomes, we face the same challenges.
And the latest data may not reflect what is normal or even the “new normal” that will emerge post-COVID. The simple reason is the disruption we talked about early on in this article: COVID accelerated what was already happening by revealing weaknesses when the system was put under global pressure. This is why tackling our next section is so challenging as well.
But it pays to simply state that if we are going to develop a decentralised, more universal education framework or translatable frameworks, we also need to gather more decentralised and objective data when it comes to graduate outcomes. In some ways, we also must expand the definition of these outcomes.
Private trade, vocational schools and non-degree training providers often keep outcomes siloed, and even if shared they may be industry and location-specific. This information, if combined with other data, could provide a much clearer picture of overall learner outcomes, and help learners determine the best path from where they are now to where they want to be.
What does that look like in the future?
It is difficult to make any prediction without looking like a failed prophet by making specific predictions or a fortune-teller who makes general statements about scattered tea leaves, making her generally right because circumstances can seem to fit her predictions. However, what we can do is look at the overall education space, employer space, and learner space, and project some things based on what we see.
There is, of course, much we don’t know. We hope that the use of micro-credentials and digital badging becomes more prevalent. Will those courses be stackable so a learner can create their own degree? That would be a desirable outcome, but we have a long way to go to get to that point.
Will employers and companies continue to lead the micro-credential style of learning, or will it continue to make inroads into the formal education space? Will degrees include micro-credentials and become more skills-based? Again, this would be an ideal outcome, but as things stand most micro-courses are offered by companies, and that learning takes place outside of traditional frameworks.
When we asked our Magic 8 Ball if education will look the same in five years as it does now, the answer was “not likely.” What we do know for certain is that education is ripe for disruption and change, and perhaps that is the only thing we can predict with any accuracy. A decade from now, likely less, and degrees will probably look substantially different than they do right now. That will mean a whole new way of assessing graduate outcomes.
We can’t wait to see what this new normal looks like and we’d love you to become a part of the discussion. Let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
Credentialate is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials to students backed by personalised evidence at scale. By automatically extracting data from existing platforms and using an organization’s own assessment rubrics, we can objectively measure awarding criteria and validate its evidence.
By this same method we can automate the assessment, monitoring, promotion and validation of evidence-backed skills. For an institution, we provide the data and insights required to track skills and competencies across courses and entire programs.
Finally, we have decades of collective experience in educational technology and long-standing ties with global educational powerhouses. These solidify our ability to produce credible digital badges.
Credentialate assesses, monitors, promotes and validates learners’ attainment of evidence-backed skills, supporting the transition from learner to earner. It is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials in a digital badge to students. If you’d like to learn more About Us and how we can work together, contact us or Schedule a Demo and let’s discuss!
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Credentialate is the world’s first Credential Evidence Platform that helps discover and share evidence of workplace skills. Launched In 2019, it was initially developed in close collaboration with leading design partner, UNSW Sydney, in support of a multi-year, cross-faculty community of practice and micro-credential research project. Credentialate has continued to evolve at an accelerated pace, informed in partnership with educators and industry leaders from around the world. Credentialate provides a Skills Core that creates order from chaotic data, provides meaningful insight through framework alignment and equips learners with rich personal industry-aligned evidence of their skills and competencies.
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