No matter what age we’re at or position we’re in, we all have to face our own inadequacies from time to time. These are painful realisations. The trick is to get over them quickly. Otherwise, you risk losing the drive to try again. You have to keep on learning. It is a cruel irony that these realisations are so widespread among university graduates who try to transition into the labour market. The EPICA initiative provides a platform designed to ease this pain of learning-by-devastation. It is the cure to decades of bad faith talk about university graduates’ lack of competencies, thinning labour markets and the all-too-familiar ‘skills gap’.
Picture the following: You’re a recent university graduate. You did well in your studies. Your professors and teachers have lauded you for your grasp of the concepts, and you are proud of yourself because it all took a lot of diligence. You are finally leaving university with a degree in your desired subject. Perhaps you can even call yourself the proud owner of your very own mortarboard to take home with you. Golly, what will the labour market make of you?
Typically, all a future employer will be able to glean is that you have a degree with a title as respectable as it is innocuous – and an eccentric taste in headgear. It’s difficult enough to communicate what it is that distinguishes you from other candidates, but this hurdle only arises after you’ve gotten the interview in the first place.
What are your specific skills? What can you do for her company? Why do you deserve more of a chance than the next? The talk of ‘skills gaps’ follows you everywhere. Potential employers say time and again that what you’ve learned at university does not fully qualify you for the position for which you’ve applied. You’ve been told that you are not the right fit – in other words, that you are inadequate. Even though you’ve done everything as demanded up to this point, you’ve still hit a barrier you cannot surmount.
EPICA is a Horizon2020 co-funded project between Africa and Europe. It works to smooth over these wrinkles, which are the cause of the many complaints that graduates – and the EPICA partners – hear from potential employers all too frequently.
The idea is simple. EPICA is a strategic international partnership that is building an integrated ePortfolio ecosystem. The system will validate graduates’ individual skills in a clear and accessible way to help them enter the labour market as efficiently as possible. EPICA wants to make the skills that graduates have already acquired more recognisable to an increasingly specified labour market.
At the same time, the skills that future applicants are required to possess should be made more explicit to the universities and prospective graduates alike. This is how EPICA proposes to narrow the ‘skills gap’ that has been holding back too many people and companies in too many labour markets.
The EPICA ePortfolio provides a comprehensive overview of what skills you, as a graduate and applicant, have acquired during your years of training. You will be able to highlight your course work, extracurriculars, practical experience and anything else that will help you get an edge. With a click, future employers will have access to a validated list of precisely what it is you can bring to the table. With a filtered search for specific skills requirements, they can even approach you as a headhunter would and recruit you straight from the university.
EPICA is made up of an international consortium of African and European institutions. These include the African Virtual University; the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE); ICWE (the organisers of eLearning Africa); MyDocumenta; and the Open University of Catalonia. Three of EPICA’s partner universities – Makerere University, Maseno University and the Open University of Tanzania – have each recently organised Open-Day events. This was an important step toward bringing EPICA to wider attention. These gatherings were designed to encourage a dialogue among EPICA, local businesses and the education sector. And the success of these events is apparent from the marked attention that they have received online, in print and on TV. The demand for a solution, especially in Africa, is palpable.
We have all realised that in the past decades, the massification of higher education has led to an increased disconnect between the content taught at universities and the application of those skills learned in the real world.
New universities are trying their best to establish themselves everywhere. It should not be forgotten that most have to do so with severely limited resources. The few teachers that these universities can provide are often undervalued, underpaid and charged with addressing over-crowded lecture halls. Even at the esteemed Sorbonne, law students have to sit on the floor or on table-less benches if they miss out on the first twenty available seats. Predictably, this is detrimental to the students’ education. But who can see an easy fix in the dim light that emanates from resources to which access is limited?
A notorious cliché attached to “calls to action” is that they produce more heat than light. In fact, it is the correlation between these two energies that kindles the spark. EPICA’S ePortfolio strategy is designed to breathe fresh oxygen onto the overlooked sparks: all of those graduates who have persevered and have put in the work that speaks to their tenacity. It’s not that they deserve their dream job simply for doing so, or that discovered inadequacies won’t be part of their everyday lives. Unfortunately, these issues can’t be laid to rest so easily.
EPICA’s raison d’être is the simple realisation that every unemployed graduate is a missed opportunity for the whole labour market. With your commitment, we can help others appreciate the gravity of the situation and, hopefully, convince them to join us in working toward its mitigation.
You can learn more about EPICA: ePortfolios for Skills Recognition at eLearning Africa, sharing a very interactive session “Innovative Networking Experiences”, on Friday, 28 September.