Ultimately, the goal of higher education is to prepare students for their future careers — be that an analyst, a zoologist or hundreds of occupations in between.
However, a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that just 23 percent of employers felt recent graduates were prepared to work. This was in direct contrast to the 59 percent of students who reported that they felt prepared.
Whether students are unprepared or just not able to communicate that career-readiness to employers is unclear. But tools like digital badges and e-portfolios can help to prepare students digitally for future careers — and, just as importantly, communicate to employers the skills they have.
In a finding similar to the AACU study, EDUCAUSE cited an Internships.com report indicating that in the area of digital skills, only 18 percent of employers thought that students were very prepared for the workplace.
AACU research also indicated that 80 percent of employers found e-portfolios to be helpful, but only 45 percent found the traditional transcript to helpful.
EDUCAUSE indicates that this disparity is likely due to the digital literacy that crafting an e-portfolio exemplifies.
“Students can be more successful after graduation if they are digitally literate — having learned how to identify and create digital solutions, adapt to new tools, and discover more effective and efficient ways of doing things in their fields,” reports EDUCAUSE.
A research paper published in AACU’s Peer Review backs this up. In preparation for graduate school, students in a research seminar series used e-portfolios for two years — blogging about research, creating relevant multimedia and updating their resumes to reflect the research work.
“Over the two years, students were refining a professional online presence that could be shared with potential employers or graduate schools,” reports the paper.
By blogging, the paper suggests that students learned how to articulate their research to the public. Also, crafting their professional online identities boosted their digital literacy and citizenship.
Unlike a simple resume or transcript, e-portfolios allow students to collect things like blogs and multimedia to present a fully fleshed out view of their experience to employers.
“A career e-portfolio does not replace a resume or cover letter, rather it enhances them by serving as a way to supplement, support, and extend your resume,” reads San Jose State University’s argument in support of e-portfolios. “As a dynamic profile with actual examples of your work, it gives employers the ability to learn much more about you and the work you are describing in the resume and cover letter.”
E-portfolios help students “market” themselves to prospective employers and can be tailored to each job opportunity. Students can “highlight how that work aligns with the skills needed for a particular job opportunity,” Eduventures reports.
Some universities are acknowledging students who highlight these skills by awarding digital badges, or achievements students earn for experiences and skills throughout their academic careers.
At Illinois State University, a program piloted in their honors program saw 7,400 digital badges handed out, reports Inside Higher Ed. In establishing these badges, administrators saw the opportunity for students to make more three-dimensional transcripts and organize their skill sets to present to graduate programs or employers.
“Even their diplomas would not necessarily reflect their good standing and ongoing achievements as honor students,” ISU’s honors program associate director Amy Oberts says.
With badging platforms, employers can easily search for certain skill sets they are seeking.
Lauren Griffin, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing, tells U.S. News and World Report that she’s seen a majority of employers on board with the new trend. Others in the recruiting industry have agreed with Griffin.
“From the hiring manager perspective, they want to see skill sets, they want to see endorsements, they want to see the complete profile of that candidate, and that now does include these microcredentials,” says Jason Weingarten, CEO of recruitment software company Yello, in the article.