A Paradigm shift for ePortfolio: Introducing the Labour Market Perspective based on three years of PhD research

For the past three years, I have researched the ePortfolio concept from the labour market perspective. My research draws on three years of empirical research within an innovative program in The Netherlands, “Let’s Connect”. The insights from the conducted study, which are gathered in a collection of five papers (more information can be found below), provide a new perspective on the concept of ePortfolio, which thus far have only been subjected to academic attention within the realm of education. There, it has predominantly been researched with respect to a variety of pedagogical applications.  According to the labour market paradigm, central to this thesis, ePortfolios are considered digital profiles from which work readiness can be inferred. These profiles serve as the basis through which an optimal match between supply and demand of labour can be pursued.  

With my PhD in the final stages, I am currently developing a platform aimed at briding education with the labour market, which I intend to launch in The Netherlands later in 2015


More information on the scientific output:

The main research question to be answered is: Is the ePortfolio a suitable medium to foster transparency on the labour market, and, if so, under which conditions? This question is answered through a multitude of empirical research projects, evaluating ePortfolio applications in practice and gathering perceptions and attitudes of relevant actors in the matching process by means of surveys and interviews. The results were interpreted drawing on a combination of the disciplines human resource management (HRM) and economics.

The first paper introduces a macroeconomic perspective on ePortfolios (published in The International Journal of ePortfolio: http://theijep.com/articleView.cfm?id=139 ). Drawing on economic literature, a paradigm shift for ePortfolio is proposed. The chapter positions and discusses the ePortfolio as contributor to solving the “information problem” on the labour market, by functioning as a mechanism through which search frictions can be reduced and the labour market can operate in a more transparent manner. Here, in theory, the ePortfolio provides several benefits. First and foremost, when information on a workforce's employability is made structurally available through ePortfolios, it can be used to counteract prevalent mismatches. For instance, when information on skills gaps is made publicly available, appropriate actions can be taken to address consequent mismatches (either on the individual, organizational, or policy level). Targeted efforts can be made on each of these levels to make necessary adjustments in the employability of workers. Therefore, it can be concluded that the career e-portfolio should consist of competence-based information on both the aggregate and individual levels, to facilitate workers and firms in their career and personnel planning, and to aid governmental and educational institutes in devising appropriate labour market policies and curricula. Major challenges include the required shared understanding of competences among workers and firms, given their heterogeneity, as well as the need for a credible and reliable distribution of this information, due to the asymmetrical nature of labour market information.

In the second paper (currently in the submission cycle), the suggested credible and reliable competence-based nature of ePortfolios is further explored. It was investigated whether the development of standardized generic competences enhanced employment outcomes of youth in a Dutch program aimed at reducing youth unemployment. For the program, a set of generic competences was developed, based on the SHL Universal Competence Framework which is consistent with a wide range of models used by practitioners in competence practice. The credibility and reliability of information was addressed by obtaining both self-assessments as well as assessments conducted by the managerial supervisor. The effects on employment outcomes were subsequently compared. Results indicated that the judgment of competence mastery by the supervisor was positively associated with job-fit and obtaining employment, whereas the judgment by the participant did not have any effect. Therefore, rather than by jobseekers themselves, the evaluation of competences in an ePortfolio should be conducted by others (i.e. former supervisors), who do not have an interest in positive evaluations. 

In a third paper (slated for publication the upcoming issue of The International Journal of ePortfolio), it is researched whether the ePortfolio is a suitable instrument for human capital management (HCM) in the business environment. The implementation of ePortfolio systems in five different organizations is analyzed. It is established whether ePortfolio implementations were successful, and relevant critical success factors are identified. For the latter purpose, a theoretical framework for analysis is compiled from the literature. The results show that the ePortfolio proved to be a useful tool for HCM purposes in two cases. The ePortfolio enabled these organizations to enhance their talent management and performance appraisal practices. Three out of five cases failed, and reached a bare minimum of their company goals and objectives. To explain these findings, the implementation processes in each of the five cases is analyzed by means of a compiled theoretical framework of critical success factors. The empirical results led to a revision of the framework, identifying eleven critical success factors. These factors revolve around the linking the ePortfolio with business objectives, carefully identifying information requirements and selecting a suitable system, actively managing the implementation by appropriate and dedicated staff throughout the organization, and ensuring the employees have ownership over their ePortfolio profiles. In terms of the utility of ePortfolio for enhancing transparency and the mobility of workers, it is concluded that an ePortfolio can only operate effectively in a platform-function, in which data is interpretable and exchangeable by all parties.

The feasibility of an ePortfolio in a platform, as a liaison between two separate environments, is further explored in papers four and five. In both papers, this platform function is explored in relation to the specific transition from education to the labour market. This transition was chosen since it entails the first point of contact with the labour market, and thus can serve as the starting point for building an ePortfolio as part of an individual’s life-long learning process. In paper four (in the submission cycle), recruiter and senior year student perspectives on the desirability of specific ePortfolio content are gathered to identify the essential constituents of an ePortfolio. Furthermore, the students’ attitudes towards an ePortfolio platform, in which their ePortfolio profiles are accessible to employers, are measured. Results show that students and recruiters are in partial agreement about the inclusion of both types of information (recruiters value high bandwidth data higher than students), and that students support the idea of an ePortfolio platform. Important preconditions for such a platform are privacy, ePortfolio ownership, free and voluntary use, and information validity.

Paper five (published in the first edition of The Journal of Recording Achievement, Planning, and Portfolio) evaluates a concrete example of an ePortfolio platform in Italy, aimed at bridging academia and the business world. The aim was to assess the contribution of online labour market intermediary AlmaLaurea towards enhancing the quality of the information and subsequently facilitating more effective recruitment practices by organizations in Italy. An online survey was distributed among 276 recruiters who used the AlmaLaurea service for recruitment purposes. Results show that recruiters mostly use AlmaLaurea in the pre-selection phase of recruitment, and that, compared to other recruitment channels, they are satisfied with the ease and speed of use, validity and reliability of information, and quality of the profiles found through AlmaLaurea. Furthermore, they rank AlmaLaurea as a relatively effective tool in the spectrum of a wide range of available recruitment tools. Certain mismatches between what recruiters seek for in candidates and the extent to which they find these characteristics in AlmaLaurea profiles were identified, most notably related to hard-to-verify information (professional ambitions, competences, knowledge on sector of the firm). 

In conclusion, it can be argued that the ePortfolio certainly is capable of closing information gaps between supply and demand of labour, it can facilitate the distribution of information relevant to the matchmaking process. There are two conditions for this which, thus far, have not been met by ePortfolio systems. First of all, ePortfolios need to be more selective and structured to prevent information overload for recruiters. Since cheap information (as can currently be found on several online intermediation sites, such as Monster) does not fully reveal an individual’s or vacancy’s characteristics, the contents should represent both the “low and high bandwidth” information types as proposed by Autor (2001). One the one hand it should include verifiable information on an individual’s diploma’s and qualifications, and, on the other, information representing more ambiguous aspects such as “quality” and “fit” (which, for instance, can be derived from an individual’s competences). Obtaining this information is challenging, since individuals and firms generally lack incentives to fully disclose relevant information. In some cases, the opposite is true, with individuals padding their resumes and firms misrepresenting a particular vacancy. As a result, mismatches occur through adverse selection. As such, a mechanism in which actors in the matchmaking process are compelled to disclose information they otherwise would perhaps be reluctant to do so, is essential.

The second condition for an effective contribution of ePortfolio towards reducing labour market imperfections is that it should be part of a platform, bridging different contexts. The Let’s Connect project has shown that the tool is not feasible in isolated contexts. It is essential that the ePortfolio serves as a linking pin between different organizations or environments. This can only be achieved through some degree of standardization with respect to the information being exchanged. This exchange is contingent on a common and shared understanding of the information (for example on competences, representing “high bandwidth” information) by different parties. While efforts are being made to standardize information relevant to ePortfolios (for instance, through the European Competence Framework), at the time of writing these developments are still in its infancy stage with a low rate of adoption by ePortfolio systems.

AlmaLaurea is an example of a platform which, to a large extent, meets these conditions. The contents of graduate profiles are standardized and reliable to their partially administrative nature (they are supplied directly by the university). A mechanism of compulsory disclosure of information alleviated the typically asymmetric nature of labour market information.   By allowing graduates to add self-administered information on their professional ambitions and mastery of their competences, the platform also distributes “high bandwidth” information. In the future, this could be further enhanced by facilitating a more valid and reliable measurement method of competences. Overall, AlmaLaurea has proven itself as a valuable means towards inducing transparency levels on the labour market, and fostering the mobility of graduates. As such, it can be considered a best-practice which could serve as an example for future ePortfolio platforms.