Workers in the knowledge economy need constantly to improve their skills to remain competitive, but proving what they know and can do is not always easy. And employers are left to wonder how accurately a resume reflects what a job applicant can contribute.
As part of a six-year project funded by the National Science Foundation, researchers at Johns Hopkins have worked with companies and community colleges across the country to help teach current and future workers the skills they will need--and to document knowledge and skill in a "career transcript" that will follow the student throughout his or her working life.
"This is part of lifelong learning," said Arnold H. Packer, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Labor Department, about the career transcript system. "Our idea is, whether you're on welfare or you're a 40-year-old [working] in a company with a master's degree, you can begin to build this transcript. The person can say, 'Here's what I can do,' not 'I got a B in Biology 107.' "
The online transcript reports performance on specific tests that many companies already use in-house to evaluate workers' skills, said Cabot Jaffee Jr., chief operating officer of AlignMark, a Maitland, Fla., workforce recruitment and development company.
AlignMark, whose clients include Sprint, UPS, Prudential, General Motors and Disneyworld, created the database and Web site where the career transcripts reside. The company also has played a role in providing some of the assessment tests the students have taken.
"What is going to happen eventually is that just like certain certificates are accepted by employers now, the teamwork certificate, or the teamwork part of the transcript, is going to be just as accepted, so that employers will know, 'When I hire people with this certificate, they will work out on the job,'" Jaffee said.
And that translates into benefits for the companies in terms of lower turnover rates and higher productivity, Packer said.
During the past spring semester, more than 200 students from four community colleges learned important skills and knowledge--everything from creative thinking to working effectively in teams to applying mathematics to real-world situations. They were tested before and after the program, evaluated on what they had learned, and given scores.
Now the students at Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter, S.C.; Ivy Tech in Terre Haute, Ind.; Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio; and Hagerstown Community College in Hagerstown, Md., can log onto a Web site, review their scores and direct prospective employers--or their current boss, for that matter--to see what they can do.
The students who received their online career transcripts in June are the first in a pilot effort. Packer said more colleges and others will join the effort to build career transcripts. Jaffee can foresee many companies in a range of industries buying into the career transcript concept.
The career transcript is just the final phase of a process to teach workers the key skills they will need to compete in the job market, as identified by the secretary of labor in 1991. These skills have come to be known as SCANS, which stands for Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills.
These SCANS include foundation competencies, such as creative thinking and problem solving, and workplace competencies, such as managing time and interpreting information. Packer and his research team at Hopkins are focused on developing learning strategies that develop these SCANS in students and workers.
Companies that opt to use the career transcript system would also benefit from building an inventory of the skills and knowledge of their own work force, which many now do not have, Packer said.
"If you go to a factory and you ask what is their inventory, they can probably tell how many machines they have and how many supplies," Packer said. "But if you say, 'Tell me about your intellectual capacity,' they won't be as clear.
"If it's a big company," Packer continued, "they will probably know how many engineers they have. But ask them how many of their engineers can make a presentation--they don't have the foggiest idea."
In addition to AlignMark and the community colleges, Packer and his research team have worked with AES International, a Detroit Lakes, Minn., company that has developed tools to measure people's competencies in the SCANS.
Packer is head of the SCANS 2000 Center at Johns Hopkins, which, along with its national partners and community teams, works to provide employers a means by which to evaluate and develop current employees and to have more confidence in the hiring process, increase productivity and decrease turnover.
AlignMark is a leading provider of innovative human performance solutions to Fortune 500 companies. Owned by the Thomson Corp., AlignMark is a division of Thomson Learning's Lifelong Learning group, a worldwide organization that services the needs of students, instructors, trainers, learning institutions and business organizations.