According to a study from CareerBuilder, 81 percent of employers have some level of difficulty filling open positions due to the gap between the skills applicants possess and the skills required for the jobs. With the skills gap presenting problems for both employers and students, students must do all they can to present their best selves to prospective employers and showcase the skills they actually know that will make them better matches for open positions.
As someone who has spent her entire professional life committed to helping students optimize their academic outcomes and obtain meaningful employment, I know how important it is that job applicants demonstrate their skills in a way that truly resonates with employers and aligns with the current job market. Today’s employers are looking for evidence of ability, passion, skills and knowledge.
Bringing Experience to Life
To thrive in the workforce, students must be able to differentiate themselves from other job candidates and show what they know in a way that goes beyond a transcript or static resume. The use of technology brings a job seeker to life and provides a connection point between employers and job candidates. Digital portfolios are a proven catalyst to employment for many students. The platform challenges the traditional resume and opens the door to a more holistic approach to cataloging achievements. For instance, a traditional resume allows a film student to describe a film they directed and produced, while a digital portfolio gives them the opportunity to actually show the film or clips from the film. This deliberate presentation of capabilities leads to increased confidence and accelerated progress.
Yet despite evidence that digital portfolios help in student development and increase self-awareness, only 31 percent of students say their institution requires this resource to graduate, according to a 2015 survey from Cengage Learning, which polled 3,251 students from more than 1,200 academic institutions.
Integrating Digital Portfolios into the Classroom
When students succeed, instructors and institutions succeed. There are five ways academic institutions can weave digital portfolios into the student experience, which will lead to increased confidence, better classroom outcomes and higher success rates in the job market.
What Can Instructors Do?
Integrate portfolios into general courses: Professors and instructors can introduce digital portfolios in a wide variety of classes. For example, business students can use portfolios in marketing and general business courses, while architecture students can use them in design and engineering classes. The portfolio is a place where students can house all of their projects, designs, go-to-market plans, and sales pitches to be easily shared with potential employers when they enter the workforce. To help professors and instructors successfully incorporate digital portfolios into their courses, they can receive training in how to use the technology and also how to develop assignments.
Assign portfolios as a graded project: This will help teach students how to effectively showcase their work and accomplishments. Along with providing a grade, instructors can deliver feedback on how students used the portfolios and offer advice on how to improve them in the future. Unlike many classes where projects and papers are often never used again after grading, students can use digital portfolios throughout their entire college experience and into their professional careers.
How Can Career Services Departments Help?
Leverage portfolios in career services departments: When students seek help in applying for jobs from their school’s career services department, portfolios are a tremendous resource for telling a concise story of achievement over a college career. Through discussions around portfolios, counselors can engage with students to tailor materials to the specific job(s) opportunity at hand.
Require digital portfolios in career preparation courses: In addition to resume development, career prep courses help prepare students with skills for the entire job search experience – including how to interview, how to correspond with potential employers, how to talk about their best traits and skills, and more. Requiring these courses and using digital portfolios in the curriculum will prepare students for success in the workforce.
Forge relationships with potential employers: Career service departments can also encourage the use of digital portfolios by partnering with employers to develop templates that contain the exact content and structure they want to see in a candidate’s portfolio. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, more than two thirds of employers are either currently collaborating with higher education programs or have done so within the last three years. This type of partnership allows students who possess the skills and qualifications needed for a particular job to connect faster with employers. Customized employer portfolio templates help students understand what a specific employer is looking for before they apply for a job. They can review all of their accomplishments and determine if they meet the employer’s criteria before even submitting their digital portfolio, cover letter and application.
Preparing Students to Succeed in the Workforce
As a majority of employers cite the skills gap as the reason why their open positions go unfilled, we must provide ways for students to present their best selves to employers and illustrate how their skills bring value to the workplace.
Achieving this will have far-reaching results for students, including improved self-esteem and a clearer pathway towards employment. While we can’t do the work for students, we can provide them with the tools they need to succeed. Digital portfolios bring students’ accomplishments to life in new and engaging ways.
To introduce students to the idea of using digital portfolios, instructors and administrators at higher education institutions should consider incorporating them directly into their courses, career services departments and career preparation courses if they have them. Beyond using portfolios as a way to represent and package overall achievements for an individual, this type of integration helps students more clearly recognize what employers are looking for so they can become better matches for prospective employers.