In the past, academic qualifications and knowledge-based learning were at the forefront for what students needed to join the workforce. However, the needs of the modern workforce are changing. As technology continues to permeate life as we know it, we are experiencing a subsequent shift towards developing more authentic assessments that reflect practical skills in the workplace. This will help to develop ‘work-ready learners’ who can apply knowledge in real-world situations, and have developed key skills such as problem-solving, communication and working effectively in a team. With the significant increase in remote work as a result of the global pandemic, traits like adaptability and resilience are also becoming crucial.
Assessments are changing to be more holistic in their evaluation of these skills and this blog will explore some of the reasons as to why this shift is happening and what it could mean for the future of education and assessment.
1. Rapid pace of technological change
The advancements of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have led to the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, to describe a “new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technological advances” that are “merging the physical, digital and biological worlds” (WEF). This new wave of change is evolving at a pace and scale that is revolutionary. Access to technology is everywhere, and is driving change across most professions. This has a direct impact on the way we live, and work and the skills required in the workforce are similarly needing to change in tandem to keep up. In particular, there is a need for learners to be adaptable and able to learn new skills on the fly. As more activities in the workforce become automated, skills and competencies which are not yet replicable by machines such as empathy and intrinsic motivation become even more crucial to develop.
2. Increased competition in the job market
As more people enter the workforce with a similar level of academic qualifications, employers are increasingly looking to identify skills in candidates that differentiate them from others and equip them for the modern workforce. Some of these key skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and communication are not always developed through traditional academic qualifications and so there is a need for a shift towards assessing a broader range of competencies.
3. Rise of the gig economy and remote work
In recent years, we have experienced the rise of the gig economy – a rise in short-term contracts or freelance work. This provides flexibility to individuals by giving them more choice in when and where to work, and organisations gain access to specialists without needing to hire them as full-time employees. When combined with the significant increase in remote work as a result of the pandemic, the need for learners to be adaptable, resilient and able to work independently is reinforced. Organisations are looking for assessment to develop and enable the evaluation of these types of skills.
What does this mean for the future of education and assessment?
1. A focus on skills-based education and training
A key implication of this shift is the need for greater emphasis on skills-based education and training from a young age. By providing learners with the opportunities to develop practical skills through work-based learning, internships and apprenticeships, they will be better equipped for the modern workforce. For instance, work-based learning could be giving students the opportunity to work on real-world projects or challenges that require them to apply their skills in a practical context. This approach enables learners to develop the core skills like problem-solving, teamwork and critical thinking that are highly valued by employers. Internships and apprenticeships provide learners with hands-on experience in a professional setting, developing their practical skills while gaining exposure to different types of work environments. These can be extremely valuable for those looking to go into the workforce earlier and helps to differentiate themselves from other candidates who may be limited to theoretical knowledge.
2. Assessing a broader range of competencies
Going forwards, assessments need to reflect these changes and shift away from purely knowledge-based assessments towards ones that include focusing on a range of competencies and practical skills. For instance, an assessment could present students with real-world problems, and ask them to communicate their solutions and strategy effectively or work collaboratively with others to achieve a common goal. Assessments might also look at the application of knowledge in practical settings, giving a stronger alignment with the roles and experiences that a student would be required to undertake in the workplace. For example, they might ask students to use their knowledge to design a product, develop a strategy or devise a business plan. By assessing knowledge in this way, it aligns assessment with the skills and competencies that are needed in the modern workforce – helping to bridge that gap for candidates and reduce training costs for organisations.
3. Developing traits for the gig economy and remote work
Adaptability, resilience and working independently are all keys to success when living in a gig economy and with an increasing amount of remote work. Assessments could help to develop these through project-based learning that enables students to work independently or in small teams on projects that require them to be adaptable and make decisions. This also helps learners to practice effective time management as well as adapting to changing circumstances. These assessments could also be problem-based and require students to work with each other and try out different roles and responsibilities in order to solve complex problems. Assessments might also become more autonomous for the student. By giving individuals more control over their learning process, they are taking responsibility and learning to be flexible in different working environments.
As the world around us changes, our education and assessment systems have to adapt to encourage learners worldwide. The shift towards developing work-ready learners is essential to ensure individuals are prepared for the demands of the modern workforce and are equipped with the right skills and competencies needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world. Steps must be taken to incorporate testing of the right skills. By fostering creativity, piloting new and innovative approaches to assessment, and enabling teachers and others the creative license to contribute, we can develop a more effective, flexible assessment process that better reflects the world we live in.