The education workers need and the requirements for employability change as the world changes. The skills and education workers need are directly related to advancements in technology and changing work conditions.
In the 1900s, the US public school system developed as work conditions changed and workers needed a high school education. In the 1960s, increasing technology, the need for advanced education to perform jobs, and the Higher Education Act which expanded federal aid for higher education contributed to an increase in the number of people pursuing higher education. From 1970 to 2016 enrollment in higher education increased from 8.5 million to 20.5 million.
Today the need for higher education is greater than ever. But it isn’t a matter of completing education by earning a degree. Education will be ongoing rather than complete. “We’re entering a stage where retraining will be the day-to-day world that people live in. It will be part of their daily life,” says Brent Parton, deputy director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America.
Defining what should be part of continual education is a challenge that affects both businesses and schools. Understanding the concept of employability will shape the content of education. Currently there is a difference between schools' and employers' perceptions of graduates’ readiness for the world of work. The 2015 Gallup – Purdue Index reported that 98 percent of chief academic officers rated their institutions as very or somewhat effective at preparing graduates for work, but only 11 percent of employers thought graduates were prepared.
The Quality Assurance Commons for Higher & Postsecondary Education and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems collaborated to bridge this perception gap. They formed the Quality Assurance Commons working with 27 academic programs and 14 schools to develop a process to certify programs that effectively prepare students for work.
The Quality Assurance Commons presents an employability profile of learners and workers. The qualities it names don’t apply to one just field or occupation at a specific time. Instead, they are open-ended and call for continual education. The QA document states, “they represent the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences that help ensure that graduates are not only ready for their first job, but also to support learners’ foundation for a lifetime of engaging employment and participation in the rapidly changing workplace of the 21st century.”
Workers that demonstrate employability are people who will be successful in the present and into the future as their work and skill demands change. Along with other characteristics, the QA Commons defines these people as:
• Communicators who can express ideas in ways that are appropriate to different work settings.
• Thinkers and Problem Solvers who can apply critical and creative thinking skills to find solutions across disciplines
• Inquirers who conduct research and apply information to help solve work-based problems
• Collaborators who seek multiple points of view, consider diverse perspective and are able to work with teams of co-workers
• Learners who continually assess their strengths and areas where they need improvement and seek opportunities to develop themselves so they can adopt new technologies and strategies.
As students and workers develop these essential skills they will be equipped to work in the job market’s rapidly changing conditions. Their job skills will demonstrate what the QA Commons defines as employability: “the ability to find, create and sustain work and learning across lengthening working lives and multiple work settings.”