University of South Florida recognizes the disconnect between graduates and employers, but doesn’t buy into the skills gap argument. USF believes the challenge lies with graduates’ ability to effectively communicate their job readiness to potential employers — and the university is building a digital badging program to address it.
USF’s Career Readiness Badging Program (CRBP), developed by the Office of Internships and Career Readiness, helps students think about their college studies and experiences in terms that apply to real-world work, as well as how to clearly communicate their potential and value to prospective employers.
CRBP comprises nine modules, eight of which align to a competency that is essential to success in the workforce — such as professionalism, critical thinking, and career management — plus a final badge that can be earned as a capstone once the other eight are completed. The list of eight career-readiness competencies was developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) based on input from organizations that hire recent graduates.
Each of the competency-based modules consists of three sections. In Learn It, students complete self-paced, graded assessments of their competency knowledge. In Do It, they must accumulate 45 hours of experiential learning or high-impact practice work that relates to the competency, drawing from existing USF pursuits such as coursework, research, internships, student employment, or community-based learning. They also answer in writing two behavioral-based interview questions to help them connect the experience to real-world job interview questions grounded in the specific competency. Lastly, in Show It, students record themselves on video responding to a final behavioral interview question, and they submit an updated resume to showcase the competency.
USF faculty can create required or optional classroom work that students can leverage to fulfill program requirements, pushing students to think about and demonstrate how the coursework aligns with real-world job demands. Faculty assess students based on their ability to speak to the NACE competencies and coach students as needed to improve written and video responses.
Based on the Open Badges specification, Badgr digital badges are encrypted with security details, making them verifiable and non-transferrable, and they are portable, meaning they remain accessible as people move through their lifelong learning journeys. With Badgr, USF students can add badges to an online portfolio or resume, display them on LinkedIn, or share them on social media to convey their accomplishments.
“We chose Badgr initially because it was free,” says Peter Thorsett, director of Operations & Strategic Initiatives for USF Community Engagement & Career Readiness. “We stayed with Badgr because of its seamless integration with Canvas and the amazing support we’ve received from the team at Badgr over the past few years building and running the CRBP.”
USF elected to build its program on digital badges for their ability to represent specific experiences in ways that traditional degrees and certificates cannot. “For us,” Thorsett explains, “badges are a way to recognize the completion of work in the program and help students to understand that these competencies could be arranged, or stacked, in ways that would best meet their career goals — regardless of where they learned them, how they first practiced them, or where they wanted to use them next.
“Badges also provide a critical gamification element for our program,” Thorsett continues. “The ability to earn badges as the final goal, and the ability to earn badges in other programs on campus that then became a part of the CRBP (as either Learn It or Do It submissions), became a way to keep students engaged.”
When employers search for college graduates to fill positions, they want to match the job candidate’s knowledge and experience as closely as possible to job requirements. College degrees typically represent a general area of study — such as marketing or biology — and don’t reveal much about the graduate’s skills, competencies, experiences, and specific learning. Through CRBP and badging, students now can more accurately convey their backgrounds, and employers can consider students from a wider range of majors and more accurately hire.
USF is hailing CRBP as a success. Recently, the university provost singled out the program as an example of innovative thinking that helps USF students to be career ready. Thorsett credits success at least in part to the fact that the program steers clear of being an academic program yet avoids vocationalizing the four-year education — with badges translating the college experience into a language employers understand.
USF envisions expanding CRBP beyond the eight NACE Career Readiness Competencies. Thorsett says, “We are cautiously optimistic that we have laid a solid foundation to move in this direction, and that we are building on work being done by others in this same vein across the country.”