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Giving students a leg up with job skills a resume won’t show

September 15, 2016 at 6:20 PM EDT
When applying to a job out of college, having a top-notch resume isn’t enough anymore. College graduates from top schools apply alongside dozens of similarly qualified candidates. In light of new hiring trends, a program at Georgetown University aims to make their students the best candidates possible, by teaching them skills that will give them a leg up on the job hunt. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: what specific skills employers want from college graduates, and what a college can do to prove students are ready.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story as part of our special series this week on Rethinking College.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Graduation day at Georgetown University. It takes four years, more than $200,000, and a lot of hard work to get here.

But now more employers are asking, what does a four-year degree really mean? What true marketable skills can new graduates offer the work force?

Georgetown University is trying to answer that question.

RANDALL BASS, Professor, Georgetown University: We’re hearing from employers, how do you differentiate between two graduates?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Professor Randall Bass leads the college’s Designing the Future Initiative.

RANDALL BASS: If you have got a pile of 10 graduates who all have degrees from quality liberal arts schools, and they all look more or less alike in terms of their formal credentials, are there ways to differentiate them?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Last semester, Bass and colleagues at Georgetown offered a free experimental course for students who want to further distinguish themselves. Instead of receiving a traditional credit, students who meet the requirements are awarded a digital badge.

RANDALL BASS: What we see in the badges is a way of trying to help students tell a story about some dimension of their learning that might otherwise be merely a line on their resume.

ERIKA COHEN-DERR, Student Engagement, Georgetown University: It’s easy with a degree to show what you have learned in biology or in business. But it’s not easy to show what you have learned in terms of leadership.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Erika Cohen-Derr, who was part of the Georgetown team that designed the new badge, says employers want to know more about as student’s disposition.

ERIKA COHEN-DERR: These are the soft skills. These are skills like empathy, communication, ethical leadership, the dispositions that a student has that they bring to any team or any group.

DESY OSUNSADE, Talent Acquisition, Arabella Advisors: A resume has never been enough. That’s why the concept of badging is appealing to me.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Job recruiters, like Desy Osunsade, see digital badges as a way to better define talent.

DESY OSUNSADE: We spend a lot of time and money as recruiters trying to make sure that we have the perfect fit, because recruiting is expensive.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Osunsade recruits for Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors. She says a degree doesn’t say enough about a potential hire.

DESY OSUNSADE: It tells me the person’s line of study. It doesn’t tell me if they are good at things like critical thinking, problem-solving, do they work well in teams, do they have oral communication?

A resume, in itself, with a degree from anywhere doesn’t tell me that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The digital badge offered by Georgetown is called a Catalyst Badge.

Alexis Oni-Eseleh participated in the pilot.

ALEXIS ONI-ESELEH: The Catalyst Badge is just affirming that when we see something that needs to be changed, we just go about it, proving that you are an agent of change in accomplishing the goals you set for yourself.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Don Fraser, from the Education Design Lab, works with Georgetown, George Mason University, and University of Virginia, as part of a larger effort called the 21st Century Skill Badging Challenge.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If I’m an employer, I’m going to get a better employee if they have badges that say they are a creative problem solver or critical thinker, a good oral communicator?

DON FRASER, Education Design Lab: If there’s rigor in those badges, I would — and those are skills that you find valuable in the work that you’re doing, I would say yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: More so than just if they came out of a specific school with a certain degree?

DON FRASER: Exactly, right, because they have been working specifically to acquire those skills, which is totally different than the implicit way in which we believe they are getting those right now, hoping that by the time they graduate and get this degree, they have gained these skills in some capacity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Anthony Carnevale is the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

ANTHONY CARNEVALE, Director, Center on Education and the Workforce: What’s happening is that the on-the-job training is no longer sufficient, because employers don’t commit to employees for a lifetime the way they used to, so we have got to get our own job training.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In may, Alexis Oni-Eseleh graduated from Georgetown with a major in global health and a minor in women’s gender studies. Since graduation, she has been helping with her parents’ company and will start a more serious job search this fall.

ALEXIS ONI-ESELEH: Here it is, certification Catalyst Credential. I had to pass a certain level of criteria, which you can find here.

And if you click there, it will take you to this Web site, which tells you everything I needed to do to become a Catalyst. The Catalyst Credential is awarded to a student who embraces challenges, demonstrates initiative, pursues positive social change.

DON FRASER: You host them online, and they’re hosted digitally. People have the ability to click on that badge and get at the metadata associated with how the learner, the student achieved that particular badge.

So, if I am so inclined, I can look at assessments that were a part of that badge. I can look at the work, the body of work that the student did in order to earn that badge.

ANNOUNCER: The same degree from different schools produces different workers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Some emerging for-profit education ventures see a much bigger role for digital badges.

RYAN CRAIG, Director, University Ventures: A degree doesn’t say a lot. A badge or a micro-credential can say a lot more.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ryan Craig is the author of “College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education.”

RYAN CRAIG: The primary credential that we use in our labor market is the degree. That’s the sort of default credential. Micro-credentials, or badges, breaks that down into literally competencies. What micro-credentials are signaling is the shift from degree-based hiring to competency-based hiring.

ANNOUNCER: That’s right, LinkedIn, it’s not just for top executives. It’s for you, and it’s the perfect place for you to start your professional story.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Craig points to Microsoft and its recent purchase of LinkedIn as new players in the field of post-secondary education because they offer educational training, certificates, and a marketplace to display skills.

RYAN CRAIG: Competency marketplaces, we think, are the way in which a decade from now are, most post-secondary education will be purchased.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But Anthony Carnevale cautions that commercial badges, micro-credentials, and certificates need more scrutiny.

ANTHONY CARNEVALE: It’s a whole industry where I there’s no transparency, no consumer protection, so let the buyer beware of what happened to the people who took this course, got this badge, so that people can tell if something is worth the money.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alexis Oni-Eseleh says she recently used the Catalyst badge in a job interview.

ALEXIS ONI-ESELEH: The interviewer asked me to talk about a time where I showed initiative, and I was able to talk about the digital badge and all the steps I had to take in order to get it and to qualify for it. And I even encouraged her to go look up the digital badge on my LinkedIn page.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This fall, designers of the badge challenge are expanding their reach to colleges who serve non-traditional students, who often have a harder struggle to find jobs.

In Washington, D.C., I’m Hari Sreenivasan for the “PBS NewsHour.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a nice postscript to the story: This month, Alexis Oni-Eseleh started a job as a media buyer at an ad agency on Madison Avenue in New York.

And online, a look at whether remedial classes really help college students succeed. That’s at