Managing a Career Learning Portfolio

In the past, a career was considered to be a profession, occupation, trade or vocation along a permanent and non-diverse path over a long period. A career could mean working as a banker, teacher, builder, beautician, real estate agent, financial advisor, software developer or any other job that might come to mind for one’s entire life. However, in 2020 and beyond the word is taking on another connotation—the progress and actions taken by a person during their working lifetime regardless of their profession or trade at any particular point in their life. Enter the need to manage a career learning portfolio.

We are being told that the era of frequent job changes is upon us. The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that over 1 million Australians changed their job or their business during 2017. Over half of these people entered a new industry. The Australian Institute of Business writes “on average, today’s Australian employee changes jobs 12 times throughout their life, with an average tenure of 3.3 years. For workers over 45, the average job tenure is six years and eight months, while for under 25s, it’s just one year and eight months.” With the disruption to the world’s workforce due to the Covid19 pandemic environment, the rise of the gig economy, and an increasing casualised workforce, the frequency of job changes is likely to get even higher. 

Similarly, the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) argues that youth will have ‘portfolio careers’ potentially having 17 different jobs involving five different vocations. Will they need to be qualified for each of these jobs, before entering employment as we do now? Professionals and technicians are reported as those most likely to change their job, which includes educators and L&D professionals. Will they need to engage in three, four or five years of study at an accredited institution before they can seek employment in the field? Given the fast pace of change, by the time they finish under the current educational system, the skill and knowledge required to perform the job are likely to be different from what they studied. In short, the skills of high performance keep changing as technology assumes many of the functions we thought would never change. For example, a classroom teacher’s role changed almost overnight as the pandemic spread with many of the teachers ill-prepared for online delivery.

The FYA 2017 report, The New Work Smarts highlights that by 2030, we will be spending 30 per cent more time learning skills on-the-job. These will relate to solving work problems using critical thinking and judgement, verbal communication, and interpersonal skills supported by an entrepreneurial mindset. More so than ever before, learning will be lifelong critical practice. To support the trend towards frequent change leading to portfolio careers, we need a timelier system of documenting learning and career progression. 

Illustration shows people climbing a career ladder between different professions, with a career learning portfolio in their hand.

Software developers are building intelligent systems to aid HR and L&D departments and large organisations when recommending career paths to employees, conducting job matching, or what Josh Bersin calls “intelligent talent mobility”.

Tertiary institutions are archaic and out of touch with the digital revolution. It is time they take a whole-of-life approach to support learners through their “career learning portfolio”.

Rather than courses that are defined by a list of acceptable subjects, learners need opportunities to create their own programs based on their on-the-job skill requirements, or their portfolio career goals. Direct links, fuelled by intelligent agents and xAPI big data, between what work needs to be done and the institutions where individuals gain their skills and knowledge could just be the life-saver that tertiary institutions need to survive and enter the digital world. 

Read more about how Universities can help shape learning in the future.

Micro-credentials and data analytics make universities as we know them obsolete

Are university study programs, where students take ‘time out from life’ to study towards a future career, becoming an outdated way of gaining qualifications? Enter technology-supported customised learning, where learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need at the time they need them, and receive and use micro-credentials when needed. 

Let’s consider the mature-age worker employed as a software developer. She attended university but left when deciding that the course was not keeping up-to-date with technological changes. She has worked in a number of businesses, demonstrating advanced levels of knowledge and skill in her profession by learning on-the-job. Now in the middle of her career, a project management position has become available for which she believes she is highly qualified, yet does not have the degrees which will attract a new employer’s notice. How can she compete in the employment market?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is one strategy that she might use. Most universities or TAFE colleges will offer some form of RPL. However, as one university states, RPL will not be recognised until an offer of enrolment is accepted. The Australian Qualifications Framework requires any RPL process to be of the same standard of assessment as would be required at any accredited institution and performed by an academic or teaching staff with the expertise in the subject. These put restrictions on the timeliness of both learning and accreditation.

Business woman standing in front of labyrinth of RPL. Micro-credentials could help.

What a tedious process RPL has become, with the expectations that verified supporting documentation attests to what is known, understood or has been performed. Few of us look to the future and compile work samples or copious documentation of what we do from day to day, either in a professional or personal capacity. Yet, these are the experiences which accumulate to build our expertise in many areas. Learning is a never-ending process, and acknowledgement of what we know and how we use it can provide many new opportunities for employees.

What if we all had the opportunity to keep track of our learning journeys easily by using the capabilities of technology and the interoperability of learning systems? What if technology helped to collect the data associated with our chunks of learning, compiling these into usable summaries linked to professional competencies? A secure linking between private and public cloud services might play an integral role in supporting changes between the tertiary education sector and personal learning spaces.  

The benefits of big data and data analytics using modern technologies such as Learning Record Stores (LRS) and xAPI tracking make it possible to think about a completely different approach involving micro-credentials. This approach encompasses how university students acquire their knowledge and skills and how these results are tracked, recorded and credentialed.