A Standardized Test To Identify Reasons For The Skills Gap

One partial solution to address the skills gap – employers not filling jobs, while professionals are seeking employment – is the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which is a standardized test for college graduates and early career professionals.  It is designed to understand an aptitude with transferable skills (or “critical thinking skills”) for job preparedness, in a similar manner the SATs do for college preparedness. There are many benefits regarding this type of test.

“The CLA+ will be open to anyone – whether they are graduating from a four-year university or have taken a series of MOOCs – and students will be allowed to show their score to prospective employers.”[1]

First, a professional learns their aptitude in certain skills after completing some form of higher education.  If they identify a weakness or want to make an improvement, they take control and find ways to build the related skills. There are many ways to build skills that are cost efficient – buy a book, volunteer, or take a MOOC.

Second, educational institutions have objective feedback (in the form of test scores), which they can use to design a more modern-day curriculum that embraces technology and globalization.  By reviewing the aggregate results, educators can pinpoint precisely what transferable skills their graduates learned effectively. They make adjustments to the curriculum where there are weaknesses.

Third, employers can ask for test results and use them to compare job candidates from many different backgrounds. Making comparisons from a standardized test are more objective than making comparisons on GPAs and college reputations. Moreover, it gives validity to a candidate who takes the test but was educated through a non-traditional learning channel.

Finally, the value of MOOCs and other non-traditional learning channels increases dramatically. Someone takes a series of free online courses from top-notch institutions, takes this standardized test, and uses the results to compare their job preparedness with college graduates. A college degree is no longer required, so there is less pressure on getting college credit from MOOCs.

A weakness in this type of test is that it does not distinguish technical skills or domain knowledge, something that cannot be standardized for every professional. For example, you cannot have this type of test directly targeting computer programming skills (a majority of the test takers probably never took a programming course) or knowledge of macro-economic policy. An employer uses the test to understand the aptitude a candidate has to build technical skills and may plan a training program based on the results, something I think employers must do to close the skills gap. The best way to validate technical skills is to provide samples of coursework (if possible), certifications, references, and/or online badges (as discussed in a skills-based approach).

The skills gap… “Only one in four employers think that two and four-year colleges are doing a good job preparing students for the global economy.” (2010 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities).[1]

[1] Douglas Belkin. “Colleges Set to Offer Exit Tests,” Wall Street Journal, August 25th, 2013.

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