'The attitudes, personal attributes, knowledge and skills that underpin this broader capability for employment in the 21st century are additional to the specific capabilities for a particular occupation, whether doctor, electrician, accountant or florist.'
UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)
One of the key education challenges for the UK is to develop a more highly skilled workforce which can compete in an increasingly competitive global market (Leitch Review 2006). Developments such as 14-19 diplomas and foundation degrees and the push to expand apprenticeships are examples of the drive to meet the needs of employers more effectively and engage them more fully in the development of the curriculum and work-based learning initiatives.
Developing key skills
The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency closed in March 2012 and its activities transferred to The Department for Education. It supported the development of key skills relevant to the workplace and developed a broad framework for personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTD) which are an essential component of the 14-19 Diploma.
These aim to develop characteristics such as ‘independent enquirers’, ‘creative thinkers’ and ‘reflective learners’. Communication, teamwork and planning/organisational skills were highly rated by graduate employers in research conducted in 2008 by the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE). The importance of students setting objectives and reflecting on experience in work-based contexts such as placements was also highlighted. Self-awareness and language for effective self-presentation (Moon 2004) and being self-directed (Elias and Purcell 2004) are other key requirements voiced by employers.
Learners can develop these attributes in the process of developing an e-portfolio by reviewing and reflecting on their achievements and how they relate to what an employer requires. They can then communicate their attributes and experience to employers in a format and a language that employers will understand and respond to.
E-portfolios are a way of demonstrating evidence of ‘softer skills’ to employers, such as teamwork and communication skills (Stefani et al 2007). In the ISLE project, employability was seen as one of the most important roles of an e-portfolio and a very strong incentive for learners to engage with the e-portfolio. The use of e-portfolios for presentation for employment was explored at Plumpton College as part of the Jisc-funded myWORLD project.
Some learners felt that that having an e-portfolio gave them an edge when it came to applying for jobs, especially jobs abroad, and that developing CVs using their e-portfolio was a useful process.
Engaging with employers
The level of engagement of employers with e-portfolios and their full potential to support employability is not yet fully understood. Building on the findings of previous projects, a number of Jisc initiatives have focused on the development of e-portfolios for work-based learning, for instance, the HELPP project aimed to facilitate student and employer engagement with the reflective and developmental processes of foundation degree work placements through e-portfolios in order to enhance the placement experience for both stakeholders.
EPICS-2, building on the work of the EPICS project, developed an existing regional approach to e-portfolio development in the North East of England, reviewing e-portfolio technologies to support work-based learning and meet the needs of employers more effectively.
'There are also many projects that have examined the use of e-portfolios to support professional practice and development, such as the pilots underway in the Higher Education Academy'
UK Centre for Legal Education (archive website)
All full-time students at Newham College complete a progression and employability skills programme to develop and create an e-portfolio to use when applying for jobs. Students can produce separate views for specific jobs and can tailor content appropriate to different posts and their own skills and knowledge. The students have taken this further by setting up groups to share ideas and information.
Birmingham City University
Birmingham City University’s main driver for e-portfolio implementation was support for PDP and employability. An example of use is that new first-year undergraduate students (level 4) taking the LL.B (Hons) Law degree study a module called skills, processes and scholarship.
Students are required to produce an e-portfolio using Mahara that demonstrates, (amongst other things), competence in legal research, language and communication and skills of analysis of legal texts. Using an e-portfolio has encouraged them to consider how they present themselves in a professional manner to the outside world.