A new form of higher and post-secondary education quality assurance (QA) that certifies programs that prepare graduates with the Essential Employability Qualities (EEQs)
All disciplines need to prepare graduates for employability – not just those that are specifically workforce-related or pre-professional.. With so many humanities and social science program enrollments declining, the need to demonstrate and document how effective a program is in preparing graduates for the world of work is all the greater.
Employability skills operate at multiple levels and dimensions.These skills are best learned when developed in multiple formats over the life of the program, rather than in a single course or assessment at the end of a student’s curriculum.
In its national pilot of 27 college and university programs, the QA Commons found that, while programs recognize the importance of the employability issue, very few programs put all of the pieces together.
Participation in the EEQ CERT program is developmental in nature and helps programs recognize their strengths as well as shortcomings to better their offerings to students. Programs are assessed in five key categories:
Graduate EEQ Preparation
All programs are required by accreditors to have student learning outcomes (SLOs). The QA Commons has found that rarely are those SLOs connected to essential employability skills and qualities, especially built around work-based settings. One of the greatest contributions that EEQ CERT provides is that it focuses programs on assuring that students have minimum proficiency in employability skills.
Career Support Services
Data overwhelmingly supports students’ need for career information and guidance. However, very few programs provide this guidance at the front end of program participation or track/support career services. A study by the Gallup Organization showed that only 17% of those who used career services found it helpful. There needs to be a transformation of the provision of career services.
The QA Commons has found that, even when advisory boards exist within programs, employers are rarely deeply engaged in the design and assessment of curriculum to reflect the dynamic changes occurring in the workforce. Nor are employers typically engaged in the assessment of student performance.
Student and Alumni Engagement
Alumni are generally not adequately engaged to reflect on the preparation they received and the ways the program might be improved. Students need to be involved in how the program will prepare them for the workplace beyond the traditional end of course assessment.
Very little program specific information on the likelihood of completion, average loan, types of careers graduates enter, or salaries is available to the public. This is the type of information that would enable students to be better informed as they select and enter a college or university program.
Workforce needs are dynamic and regular engagement and interaction with the community and employers is needed. Program and curricular development needs to be an iterative process to make sure graduates are prepared for multiple jobs and different career tracks. Adaptability skills, ability for continuous learning, and social and emotional intelligence are key to lifelong learning.
Each criterion is a vital component of a larger employability framework of the qualities and skills needed for the 21st Century workforce. The QA Commons’ research shows there are multiple components that need to be incorporated with regard to the acquisition of employability skills.
The 21st century workplace has changed dramatically — as have the needs of society for an educated citizenry. New QA approaches are needed to respond that:
Enhancing strategic connections among post-secondary and higher education institutions, academic programs, and employers is vital. Actions can include:
Students are increasingly diverse in terms of age, preparation, racial and ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, and attendance patterns. Higher education can:
Research and results from our EEQ Pilot Program developed criteria to certify practices that support EEQ development, which entails the “cognitive and social development of learners as individuals, professionals, and social citizens.”
Learn more about what our participants said about the experience
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