Edalex 2021 Employability Outcomes Survey

At Edalex, our passion is to surface learning outcomes, digital assets, and the power of individual achievement. We commissioned this market research in July 2021 to explore a range of critical topics on education, employment, skills and, most critically, the learner’s voice.

A key focus of ours is to help give learners a voice for their unique skills and competencies through evidence. Our findings reveal progress in key areas but also the imperative for redoubled efforts in others.

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Executive Summary

Over the first half of 2021, Edalex released a Lens on Learners article series, which explored the modern learner in-depth and covered the following:

  • the various types of learners – both current and anticipated and the opportunities and challenges they face
  • the unemployed and underemployed – who seek new or expanded employment opportunities
  • lifelong learners – who engage in additional education to progress their careers
  • recent college graduates – who are presented with an increasing array of work and study options

Of relevance to each of these cohorts, the series also examined non-formal learning, which often occurs outside of the classroom, and highlighted a number of initiatives currently underway that seek to assess and give meaning to the skills learnt through those experiences.

To round out the above, in July 2021, Edalex commissioned a market research survey of over 1,000 college graduates based in the United States regarding their employability outcomes, their future plans for education and their knowledge and understanding of the modern credential marketplace – the inaugural Lens on Learners: 2021 Employability Outcomes Survey.

Employability is the New Education Imperative

There is a new educational marker that has emerged in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, something that has altered education and employment on a worldwide scale. Worker priorities have changed, and so have the things they look for in a prospective employer. This single event has accelerated some changes that were already happening, and made the world of learning and employability a more fluid landscape.

Learners are actively looking for better education, alternatives to the time and expense of traditional education, and many look to continue their education now or understand it will be a lifelong process that won’t ever really end. However, most are also vested in doing whatever it takes to “land the job” they want, or at least land “a job” in their chosen field, and are often frustrated when that doesn’t happen. College graduates are open to alternative forms of education, provided it was accepted by potential employers and recruiters. “I’m frustrated that I need a degree to ‘prove’ the skills I already have,” one web developer told us. “But it is challenging to get a job without that piece of paper.” Seeking to address rising market demand, governments around the world are starting to align new credentials – such as micro-credentials, certificates and vocational training – with existing national qualification frameworks. Large companies (often in the tech sector) are creating their own standards based on the job-specific skills they require, with many announcing full degrees are no longer a requirement candidates need to meet in order to find work.

There is growing acceptance of digital badges and credentials among candidates and employers, although more work is needed to build labour market knowledge and skills literacy in student cohorts, and understanding of the meaning and use of digital evidence records by learners and hiring managers. Deeper levels of evidence (such as personalised evidence) is seen as advantageous by learners in boosting their employability, especially by those already familiar with digital credentials and how to use them to their advantage, typically younger graduates.

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Key Findings

  • Lifelong learning is on the rise with a variety of external factors overcoming some of the pre-existing obstacles to further education. The majority of respondents across all age groups represented in the survey plan to engage in some form of further education, with 60% of respondents under 30, and 53.5% of 30- to 60-year-olds citing career progression as a key driver.
  • The alignment between field of study and work remains strong, with 79% of college graduates working in their preferred field at some point in their career (of which 74% report full employment), although 32% say that their job is not at the level they expected.
  • Learners are questioning the time and financial return on investment of four-year degrees with 52% of respondents citing lack of relevance and cost as the top barriers to entry. In addition, 59% of respondents couldn’t find full employment or took whatever work they could find after graduation, often causing them to seek out further education.
  • If engaging in further study, the majority (57%) would choose skills or alternative credentials – such as industry certifications, micro-credentials, or vocational studies – over the next level of formal education, as (43%) report that traditional degrees are not providing the skills needed for their desired work.
  • Employability is a high priority with almost 68% of learners choosing their next level of education based on what is accepted or required by employers. However, understanding how to find employment remains low with only 33% feeling well prepared, 45% feeling somewhat prepared and 22% not feeling prepared at all.
  • 33% of graduates reported having either received a digital badge or knew what they were and how to use them. We found that younger graduates were more informed about digital credentials, who said they would share them via social media (primarily LinkedIn), in their resume and with their peers.
  • Learners are looking for better ways to understand and communicate their achievements, with 41% of respondents overall saying they would find personalised evidence of value when looking for work.

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Download Whitepaper

Download the Edalex 2021 Employability Outcomes Survey Whitepaper

Click the button below to download the PDF of the Edalex 2021 Employability Outcomes Survey Whitepaper:

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