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. We draw upon a relevant set of definitions from the Australian initiative, Developing Employability:

  • Employability is the ability to find, create and sustain work and learning across lengthening working lives and multiple work settings.
  • Employability development is the process of teaching students to think. It involves the cognitive and social development of learners as individuals, professionals and social citizens.
  • Employability is not a job.

Our research has shown that while individual general education and disciplinary courses may address the EEQs, they are best developed over time and with continued attention across students’ curricular, co-curricular, and applied and work-based experiences. Generally, the qualities are developed and fostered by programs that:

  • Intentionally integrate authentic, work-r­elevant, and applied or experiential learning activities into the curriculum and co-curriculum, such as through internships, apprenticeships, community-based and service learning activities, work-based projects, fieldwork, simulations, and leadership roles in student organizations.
  • Directly address and assess these qualities in an ongoing way throughout the student’s educational pathway, recognizing qualities that learners bring with them; identifying areas where learners need more development and providing resources or interventions to support them; and engaging learners in reflecting on their own development in these areas.
  • Engage deeply with employers to ensure that the programmatic and curricular approaches develop these qualities in ways that are authentic to the workplace and meet the needs of the local employment community.

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.

Employer Engagement

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.

Public Information

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.

For more information, contact Ralph Wolff, President or Michelle Deasy, Director of Operations &  Planning.


For Higher Ed

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:

  • Evaluate demonstrable learning outcomes
  • Ensure quality for the variety of credentials offered
  • Recognize that standards and criteria must continually evolve to meet changing needs

For Employers

Enhancing strategic connections among post-secondary and higher education institutions, academic programs, and employers is vital. Actions can include:

  • Convening Stakeholder Councils that comprise employers, academic leadership, government, and students that can help guide goals and outcomes
  • Ensuring employers that learning institutions take their needs seriously
  • Demonstrating to employers seeking capable career candidates that graduating students have the skills and competencies needed to succeed in the workplace
  • Increasing the extent to which employers are engaged in the design, development, and evaluation of programs

For Students

Students are increasingly diverse in terms of age, preparation, racial and ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, and attendance patterns. Higher education can:

  • Assure that graduates are prepared for work and life in 21st century, especially helping more graduates feel their college experience has helped prepare them for a career
  • Serve under-represented student populations effectively
  • Demonstrate learning gains for more college graduates

Pilot Program

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.”

  • What? The EEQ Pilot
  • Who? The QA Commons and 27 programs from 14 higher education institutions
  • Why? To assure students and prospective employers that a program of study provides quality preparation for employability
  • How? Explored and co-designed viable ways to assess and affirm the presence of evidence-based practices and outcomes that support EEQ development
  • When? During the 2017–2018 academic year

Learn more about what our participants said about the experience

If you’re interested in learning more about our work, please contact

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