Kentucky campuses lead the charge on employability certifications

Thirteen college programs earn certification for integrating essential job skills

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky colleges and universities are helping shape an innovative effort to prepare graduates for careers and strengthen the nexus between higher education and jobs – another step toward economic recovery amid COVID-19.

Over the past 18 months, more than a dozen college programs in Kentucky serving more than 3,000 students have completed a new and rigorous certification process that requires them to integrate essential job skills into their academic curriculum.

A national non-profit, The QA Commons, developed the certification process to ensure graduates have all the tools necessary to excel when they enter the workforce. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) partnered with the group in 2018 to pilot the new process on campuses across the state.

Aaron Thompson

“Employers want graduates who not only show up on time but also communicate well and solve problems,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson. “That requires a more comprehensive approach to education and training, and Kentucky campuses are stepping up to lead the charge. Ultimately, we want to provide graduates and employers with a seamless transition from campus to career.”

The Essential Employability Qualities (EEQ) certification signals to employers that academic programs teach skills like communication, thinking and problem solving, inquiry, collaboration, adaptability, learning, principles and ethics and responsibility and professionalism.

So far, certified programs include:

University of Kentucky

  • Accounting
  • Clinical Leadership and Management
  • Equine Science and Management

Jefferson Community and Technical College

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Medical Assisting

Gateway Community and Technical College

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Computer Information Technology

Murray State University

  • Telecommunications Systems Management
  • Construction Engineering and Technology
  • Occupational Health and Safety

Bluegrass Community and Technical College

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Computer Information Technology
  • Medical Assisting

Ralph Wolff, president and founder of The QA Commons, said the CPE- QA Commons partnership is designed to fulfill one of Dr. Thompson’s priorities to build a stronger and workforce ready graduate from the commonwealth.

“Even though these programs began the certification process before COVID-19, they have demonstrated the exact attributes needed for this challenging time,” Wolff said. “A learner’s investment in higher education needs to lead to greater employment opportunities, and more and more colleges will need to design their programs around this goal.”

The certification process includes an external review by trained educators and a second review by a committee of the QA Commons Board. Criteria used to evaluate the programs include graduate preparation, career support services, employer engagement, student and alumni engagement and career information.

Importantly, EEQ certification ensures that employers have helped shape the program design and evaluation.

Wolff said feedback from certified programs is strongly positive, even as the process was fine tuned over the past year. Even programs with professional accreditation or licensure gained value from their self-assessment and external feedback. As a result, the organization is now partnering with other programs across the nation to assess employability needs and bring together like-minded educators and employers.

“Our success in Kentucky is providing a roadmap to expand this program nationwide,” Wolff said.