Solving the education-employment dilemma.
GUEST COLUMN | by Himanshu Aggarwal and Varun Aggarwal
We’ve always been suckers for thorny problems rooted in inefficiencies. That certainly describes the education-employment marketplace. Consider that 8.5 million people are seeking work while 5 million U.S. jobs go begging, according to the latest U.S. Department of Labor figures. Meanwhile, more and more college graduates are discovering that all they are left with after four years of study is a pile of debt and a low-wage job that doesn’t utilize their skills.
Both job seekers and employers could rely on valid, objective credentials, which would increase the value of education.
This is a classic case of misalignment between the needs of employers and job seekers. Employers hire based on credentials that end up excluding a vast trove of students. Just as companies for years would chose IBM as their vendor, knowing it was “safe,” companies lean toward candidates from prestigious colleges and universities. Consequently, talented and potentially skilled candidates from lower-tier colleges often don’t get a hearing. An additional thorn in the side of job seekers is that they are often unaware of their job skills. Getting an “A” in a marketing course doesn’t necessarily translate into a student becoming a whiz-bang salesperson.
Not Doing the Usual
We perceived a problem requiring innovative solutions. The usual fixes of counseling, networking, recruitment agencies or training failed to reduce ingrained system inefficiencies.
Our vision was to create a solution that would improve millions of lives, using technology and science to address the problem at scale. For a reality check, we sought the opinion of Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khanna, who has written about the employment- job skills gap. He encouraged us to develop our vision, seeing an opportunity to make a big impact.
Combining our skills, including computer science expertise that Varun honed at MIT, we developed a different kind of job skills test – one that is prescriptive and descriptive. For job candidates, it would provide a roadmap of skills they need to obtain a particular job. Finally, job seekers wouldn’t be in the dark about their skills needs. At the same time, both job seekers and employers could rely on valid, objective credentials, which would increase the value of education.
We wanted to ensure that our test would accurately measures the skills that are required for a variety of jobs in the market and that test scores would reliably predict job performance. To accomplish this, we made technological and scientific innovations. Our test is adaptive: it becomes easier or harder based on a test taker’s responses, which improves scoring accuracy. We measure functional skills like programming using a simulation in which the candidate writes code, and we grade it automatically using machine learning. On the other hand, to measure people and management skills, such as customer service and sales acumen, we use situational judgment questions. These questions mimic a real-world situation in which the test taker has to choose the best and worst response.
Knowing What They Know
As a result of our corporate work over seven years, we solidly understand job competencies and the scores needed for different jobs. We work with more than 1,100 companies, many of which are multinationals, that hire based on our standardized test, AMCAT. We know the scores that companies target for particular job profiles and also the scores that predict high performance in a job.
Students and colleges benefit from our knowledge, especially our objective feedback on where skills gaps lie and how to improve. All AMCAT test takers get detailed input on strengths, weaknesses, and the necessary coursework and developmental resources. We also share employability analytics with colleges, universities and governments.
Today, a million candidates take AMCAT yearly to get feedback and access the right jobs. More than 300,000 AMCAT credentials have been posted on LinkedIn, making us the third-largest certifier on LinkedIn. Statistical analysis shows that hiring based on AMCAT eliminates college-reputation or GPA bias.
Working with more than 4,000 higher education institutions, we have consistently engaged college administrators and career centers in discussing evidence-based employability training and its impact on jobs. In addition, we partner with MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) institutions, such as edX, that are transforming education by enabling millions of individuals outside traditional/formal environments to acquire relevant knowledge and skills.
More Work Ahead
Although we have come a long way, much remains to be done. In a major recent step, we opened a U.S. office in Redwood City, California, and made AMCAT available to U.S. employers and job seekers.
We estimate that close to 150 million learners in higher education and 60 million learners in vocational education around the world could benefit from AMCAT. We need to reach more of them. We also need to reach many more companies and help them use AMCAT to improve their hiring processes, criteria and results.
Himanshu Aggarwal is CEO and co-founder of Aspiring Minds, which provides the world’s most widely-used employability test, launched in the U.S. on May 13, with U.S. headquarters in Redwood City, California. His brother, Varun Aggarwal, is CTO and co-founder of the company.