I recently had the great honor to be a part of the 2021 International e-Assessment Conference & Awards, Celebrating the Champions of Change event. It was a privilege to be present for the day when the Innovation and Transformation awards were given out. Congratulations to Bolton College, winners of the Most Innovative Use of Technology in Assessment category and Cirrus Assessment and the Chartered Accountants of Ireland, winners of the Best Transformational Project category.
I have had incredible opportunities during my almost 20-year career in assessment to be part of many organizations who have driven transformation and innovation, whether during my time as an entrepreneur, innovating while managing large-scale global credentials, or here at PSI. These opportunities have given me a particular appreciation for individuals who have propelled change in our industry.
I wanted to take this opportunity to recap on some of the points I made during the event to highlight how the assessment industry has changed over the last year and how organizations have adapted and innovated. Countless hours and words have been dedicated to the disruptions of the past 18 months – but specifically, one of the many areas that Covid-19 has disrupted has been the so-called “skills gap.”
Making matters worse
Fundamentally, the continued shortfalls on the part of post-secondary institutions to prepare people for 21st century jobs have existed for some time –the pandemic has simply exacerbated it and shined a greater spotlight on the issue. Research by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) showed that 65% of employers said that Covid-19 heightened skills gaps in their organizations.1 And while that study showed that 65% of employers had invested in training during the pandemic, the depth of this training and percentage seeking to address the issue shows there is still much work to be done to reverse the trend. Furthermore, only 31% of employees spent time during the pandemic seeking further training.
Even more troubling, the gap has also exposed underlying gaps in gender and racial biases, underscoring the need to continue to ensure equal opportunities in education and training. And as countries have begun to reopen, we have seen the gap manifested with stubborn unemployment rates and employers with many roles to fill. This skills gap is rapidly becoming a crisis.
Addressing the skills gap
On a brighter note, it is reassuring to see governments and organizations around the globe that have recognized the impact of this issue and are devoting extraordinary efforts and extensive resources to counteract the skills gap. Efforts such as the EU’s Digital Education Action Plan, the UK’s Skills and Post-16 Education bill, and the US Teaching the Skills that Matter all demonstrate the importance of such investment. But, in many cases, these efforts are not progressing quickly enough or at a scale sufficient enough. Real transformation and innovation within organizations in learning and assessment is essential to drive the positive change required.
McKinsey’s analysis of UK employers shows that if they were to pursue reskilling efforts of current employees or promising hires, this would yield an economic benefit in 75% of cases.2 These efforts would involve retraining or upskilling workers’ skills. But while the case is compelling for these activities, the pandemic led to many organizations cutting back on training or skilling initiatives – a difficult finding because McKinsey found that such efforts can result in controlling compensation costs, adding diverse talent, and boosting morale – all positive outcomes.
Similarly, research in the US has estimated that the skills gap will cost the US economy $1.2 trillion of GDP over the next decade.3 This research also has shown that rather than count on universities to change their approach and close the gap, employers are better off providing ”last mile” training for promising job candidates. Again, the research shows that this yields not only a more diverse and productive workforce, but also better employee retention.
While we all are well aware of the importance of assessment throughout the training and educational process, it is also critical that these initiatives – be they government or employer-led – have assessments embedded to properly measure the effectiveness of such training. Professor Mary Richardson said it well in her keynote address during the conference – it is critical for assessments to happen throughout learning, not simply at the end.
Companies get creative in their approach
So, what have we done to combat this? And what more can we do? Let’s discuss a few examples of how organizations have innovated and transformed in their space to address these issues.
First, from an educational perspective, assessment and industry can come together to pursue alternative models of training. An in-depth report on technical and vocational training and education by the International Labour Organization and World Bank found that Covid-19 provided an impetus to strengthen or create private-public partnerships in this area.4 Given how technical education suffered during the pandemic, this recommendation and the creation of learning spaces are critical. However, technical education paths are also one of the ways that we can both invest in the workforce and fill critical roles for which it is increasingly difficult to find workers.
A great example of such partnerships is between Toyota, a long-time client of PSI’s, and the Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education.5 By pairing technical education with safety behaviors and professional behaviors – aka soft skills training – Toyota has created a pipeline of manufacturing technicians, the key individuals who keep the largely automated manufacturing lines going. Further, the program uses two days of instruction paired with three days on the shop floor which means that they emerge from the program ready to work.
Second, we have seen tremendous investments in digital skills on the part of private-public partnerships or organizations creating their own resources to invest in the global workforce. As stated in an address at last year’s AWS global conference, “Bridging the skills gap will require intentional, sustained efforts by the private and public sectors.”6 AWS has a goal to provide 29 million people with technical cloud computing training by 2025 through providing free training courses and labs linked with preparing people for AWS certification. This has been paired with a program to help those from underrepresented communities upskill and transition into tech roles. This program is one of many being run by tech companies to address this gap.
IBM is another organization specifically trying to support the European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 by removing degree requirements for roles, personalizing learning to their employees, adding more frequent assessment and badging achievements, and launching partnerships with universities in 24 countries – currently reaching 150,000 students.7
Here at PSI, we were pleased to play a small role in Microsoft’s Global Skills Initiative, aimed at providing more than 25 million people free access to learning paths and content, as well as low-cost certifications and free job seeking tools for those pursuing skill development.8 Through investing in privacy, cyber security, data analysis, machine learning, AI, cloud, and software development skills, Microsoft hopes to touch every corner of the global workforce.
Making progress, but more work to be done
Finally, these examples serve as a model for all of us as assessment and education organizations. Many companies have adapted policies and processes for the pandemic, but how are we adapting our training and assessments to align to the future workforce? From creating more broadly available digital training to creating stackable credentials that can be better aligned to individual skill sets rather than broader roles, there is much we can do to help our stakeholders meet today’s challenges. PSI has addressed some of these challenges through the use of flexible delivery models, enabling our clients to reach their stakeholders where they want to test – whether in test centers, real-time online proctoring, or record and review proctoring. We have also worked with several clients to design so-called micro-credentials, focused on a critical skills area or rapidly changing practice. These evolutions have not been without painful learning at times but have better equipped us to serve the industry in more innovative ways.
The themes of innovation and transformation presented in this year’s awards presentation are now more important than ever. If we in the assessment industry work together to adapt and change, we can go a long way to help close this skills gap. If you would like to discuss any of the themes in this article or from my talk during the conference, then please contact us.