How competency-based programs can bridge the skills gap

Some critics say that our country’s postsecondary institutions are incapable of keeping up with projected growth in the middle-skill occupations. According to their projections, the U.S. will face a shortage of 5 million workers by 2020, and this is due to the fact that "education and workforce development institutions aren’t closely aligned with these sectors to meet the growing demand". We hear more and more every day about employers trying to find skilled workers with the ability to solve real-world problems in their day-to-day job related duties.

Postsecondary institutions have responded to the gloomy projections of such critics by implementing competency-based education (CBE) programs that provide students with the skills employers expect. Proponents of CBE know these programs “create high-quality learning pathways that are affordable, scalable, and tailored to a wide variety of industries”. This is because competency-based models are built on learning outcomes that explicitly reflect the practical application of workplace knowledge and skills. These learning outcomes are measured through direct assessment, a form of assessment that requires students to demonstrate mastery through the performance of work. Direct assessments are not multiple-choice, information-recall exams that students can cram for the night before by reading textbooks. Direct assessments are scenario-based exams that mimic what students will encounter on the job. 

By building learning outcomes on the specific demands of employers, CBE programs can provide students with the skills and knowledge relevant to employment. By assessing these outcomes through direct assessment, schools ensure their students can really perform the work they have been trained to perform. When learning outcomes align directly with the professional standards in their field of choice, graduates are better equipped for gainful employment. And from the perspective of the employer, hiring candidates who have graduated from CBE programs saves them the time and money associated with training new hires.

In short, if competencies are aligned with learning objectives, postsecondary students will most likely be able to demonstrate skills, abilities, and knowledge that are required by their future employer --- which is a solid solution to bridging our country’s middle skills gap.

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