The rhetoric in the media has focused on issues of a “job skills gap” and youth under/unemployment, which has led to criticisms of the value of a postsecondary degree (Deveau, 2015; Hirsh, 2013; Pitman, 2014; Wente, 2013). While many degrees are not intended to provide formalized “job training,” it is intended to help students develop core skills and competencies that are transferable to the labour market.
The hiring process provides insight into a candidate’s qualifications and skills. With headlines such as, “Skills shortage top concern, employers say” (Flavelle, 2014), and “Why can’t today’s graduates get hired?” (Wente, 2013), the media suggests that students and recent graduates do not have the skills that employers are looking for. In response to these criticisms, there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of a holistic student experience. The 2014 Council of Ontario Universities report titled “Bringing Life to Learning at Ontario’s Universities” highlights a myriad of work-integrated learning and experiential learning opportunities, which has shown to positively impact the student experience and development of skills. At the institutional level, Canadian universities and colleges have been launching the Co-Curricular Record (CCR) as a means to encourage a more robust and engaging educational experience. The CCR is intended to foster and encourage student engagement in opportunities beyond the classroom, and to provide a tool to help students reflect on and articulate core skills. Theories and studies (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1987) have shown that engagement in these opportunities can increase student satisfaction and sense of belonging, which in turn increases retention rates, student success and graduation rates. These studies and student development theories have supported the need and benefit for developing a formal mechanism that encourages engagement.
A number of institutions are utilizing the CCR for three major purposes: search, connect, record (Elias & Drea, 2013). Students can utilize the CCR as a 1) searchable directory to find opportunities, 2) tool to identify and reflect on the competencies and skills gained through those experiences, and 3) official record of involvement. The intended goal is to foster a culture of engagement that will help students develop core skills, which will help them throughout and beyond their educational degree.
Co-Curricular Record Landscape
While the CCR is considered a relatively new initiative in the Canadian context, co-curricular recognition programs have existed in various forms over several decades. In the 1970s-80s, some American institutions developed and implemented a Co-Curricular Transcript (CCT) or Student Development Transcript (SDT). University of Nebraska Professor Robert D. Brown wrote a few articles describing the purpose and value of the SDT, arguing in Brown & DeCoster (1982) that it can be used as a process and a product, where it encourages students to develop and reflect on experiences and competencies. Bryan, Mann, Nelson & North (1981) administered the National Co-Curricular Transcript Survey, with a total of 498 employers included in the sample. More than 7 out of 10 employers (71%) indicated the they “would definitely want” or “would prefer to have” a co-curricular transcript included in a job application. While these studies found value and use in these recognition programs, it is unclear as to why these programs did not continue to exist and expand across other American institutions.
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, a number of Canadian postsecondary institutions started to discuss the possible development of co-curricular recognition programs. While a few institutions developed a version of a CCR in the early-to-mid 2000s, the modern CCR has flourished within the last 5-7 years. Some of the early adopters include Laurier, Calgary, UOIT/Durham, and Brock. Today, a professional network of over 170 professionals from over 70 institutions have formed to discuss and advance the CCR program in Canada, and there are at least 50 institutions that have a CCR, with many others in the discussion or development phase. In Ontario alone, 16/22 universities have launched a CCR, along with 11 colleges.
Purpose of the Study
Postsecondary institutions have marketed the CCR as a tool that can be used in the hiring process—both as a learning tool to help students reflect on and articulate skills developed, and as an official record that can validate experiences and skills to employers (Co-Curricular Record Summit, personal communication, May 1-2, 2014). While the CCR has existed in some form or another for over a decade in Canada, what is lacking are empirical studies that explore employer perceptions of the CCR and its potential value in the hiring process. To discern the potential value of the CCR in the hiring process, it is important to understand current hiring practices, and the potential role that co-curricular experiences may (or may not) play in the process.
The purpose of this research study was to explore whether there is a need and/or perceived value for Co-Curricular Records in hiring practices.
Significance of Study
The results from this study are relevant to a variety of stakeholders:
- Students: This study provides some data on labour market research and the value employers place on various candidate materials and factors–including a candidate’s qualifications, experiences, and competencies. This study also highlights that many students are not effectively articulating the relevancy of their experiences beyond the classroom to employers–despite the fact that employers are primarily interested in candidates demonstrating and articulating the competencies and skills they possess. The CCR is intended to help students both find opportunities to develop skills, and as a tool to help students reflect on and articulate these skills to employers.
- Employers: This study reaffirms the importance of skills in the hiring process. However, it also demonstrates that there is a bit of a communication gap, whereby many employers may not view extra/co-curricular experiences as a means to develop the skills they are looking for. The results from this study suggest that employers are more likely to review co-curricular experiences, once they learn that these experiences can provide opportunities for the development of skills. Since the CCR is intended to help students reflect on and articulate skills, the hope is that employers are presented with more self-aware candidates who are better able to speak to the relevancy of their experiences. With this, the official nature of the CCR will hopefully elevate the importance of these experiences in the labour market.
- Postsecondary institutions: With a large number of Canadian universities and colleges investing significant financial and human resources to develop and implement the CCR, postsecondary institutions can use the results from this study to better understand the potential value and use of the CCR in the labour market. With this, it highlights that many employers may not fully understand the extent to which co-curricular experiences can help students develop skills and competencies–thus, requiring an intentional effort from institutions to further educate employers about the role and value of these experiences.
- Government/Policy Officials: The CCR directly influences a number of the MTCU priorities outlined in the Results-based Plan Book (2013-2014), including: encouraging a holistic education and developing job-ready skills, transforming the postsecondary education system to meet the needs of the innovation economy, fostering a culture of training and continuous learning, informing students about career options, tracking outcomes for students over time, and encouraging minority populations to develop skills. The CCR can be part of a provincial and national strategy to help advance some of these goals, and to reinforce the importance of experiential learning opportunities and the development of transferable skills through a holistic educational experience.
There are three broad purposes of this research study: to understand the level of importance of candidate materials and factors, to highlight the competencies employers seek in the hiring process, and to assess the role the CCR may play in the hiring process. To assess these purposes, this study explored a series of research questions. A few of the research questions focused on whether responses vary by industry.
Definition of Terms
Since most of the academic literature and labour market research uses the language “extracurricular”, for the first part of the survey, extracurricular participation was used. The following description was then provided to employers prior to questions focused on the CCR:
Often referred to as extracurricular, co-curricular refers to university-affiliated activities that are outside the academic curricula, and provide opportunities for intentional learning and development. While many people refer to this as extracurricular, overtime postsecondary institutions have started to adopt the word “co- curricular” to signify that these experiences should be part of the academic experience. Types of activities that may be captured include: leadership opportunities (orientation, residence life, student clubs & government, etc.), mentorship opportunities, community outreach and volunteerism, international experiences, athletics (intramural councils and varsity athletics), positions on formal boards and committees, and some student staff positions.
The remainder of the survey used the language “co-curricular”. Since both terms were used in the survey, extracurricular and co-curricular were both used in describing the findings of this study. However, extracurricular has come to define opportunities that are not tied to learning outcomes and competencies, and often occur outside of the institution (e.g. playing soccer in a community club). Alternatively, co-curricular refers to opportunities that are part of the educational experience, tied to the institution, and demonstrate learning outcomes and competencies developed through engagement (e.g. residence don, student government) (Co-Curricular Record Summit, personal communication, May 1-2).
Co-Curricular Record (CCR):
The survey provided a definition of the CCR following the clarification of extracurricular versus co-curricular:
The CCR provides a database of activities that allows students to search for opportunities beyond the classroom. Competencies and skills are linked to each activity, which will help students see the connection between their engagement and development. Students will be encouraged to reflect on the competencies and skills gained through their experience. These experiences and competencies are then printed on an official institutional document.
Respondents were then provided a link to a sample record: