A quarter of graduates from higher education institutions are unemployed more than two years after they complete their studies, according to IFC’s research. It’s not due to a lack of qualifications, but because their credentials don’t reflect what they need to be job-ready. Essential skills such as teamwork, project management, effective communication, and numeracy are missing. Universities, colleges, polytechnics, and technical-vocational institutions haven’t prepared students well for the workplace. But this is changing now.

Institutions are beginning to realize it’s a business imperative to not only graduate students, but to help them find jobs. By giving graduates the tools they need, and understanding what resonates with employers, universities can prepare students for the job market. When IFC discovered this was a pain point for our education clients, we set out to make a difference by measuring impact through employability.

In 2015, we undertook studies for a Latin American client to track returns on education, career progression, and socio-economic mobility among first-generation college graduates and low-income students. The results validated some of our assumptions and encouraged a wider discussion on introducing employability services. We found that some of our clients were aligned with market needs and skilled at employability, some were just starting to focus on this area, and others remained unaware of the potential.

From the beginning IFC took an inclusive approach, consulting with universities like Carnegie Mellon, global employers like InterContinental Hotels Group, consulting experts from McKinsey, and specialists from the World Bank. We built a functional prototype that could be replicated across HEIs in emerging markets, then further piloted it in different operating environments. The constructive feedback we received led to a 360° assessment for universities to discern how well they’re performing, where they’re lacking, and how they can improve. This is how “Vitae” was born.

The Vitae diagnostic is based on the collection of primary quantitative and qualitative data which is then validated by interviews with key stakeholders like faculty, staff, students, employers, and alumni. It starts by examining the institution’s vision and mission. Unless the governance and leadership are aligned on employability services, institutional focus and energy are likely to be diluted.

Vitae also investigates the quality and relevance of learning through probing. “Are academic programs designed in collaboration with employers? Are curricula and content aligned with skills in demand in the labor market?” If institutions can imagine what challenges will confront students in the job market, they can assist them to get ready.

Students also need help beyond the classroom, and that includes extra-curricular and co-curricular programming and services. “How well-equipped is the institution to provide career advice, counseling, and coaching? Is the university connecting with employers to facilitate internships? Is the school leveraging its alumni network to strengthen its corporate linkages?”

How successfully the institution has built relationships with employers is critical to the Vitae evaluation process. “Does the institution engage regularly with employers through forums such as industry advisory committees or sector councils to socialize their programs?” Close coordination with the “marketplace” for graduates helps the institution ground itself in reality.

Vitae is driven both by quantitative data gathering and validation through interviews and focus groups. The qualitative assessment provides rich texture and context to the review and complements data analytics. Graduation rates, placement rates, and starting salaries help the institution to reflect on its performance indicators and take corrective action if necessary.

The assessment process culminates in a comprehensive debrief when the university receives a score for indicators as well as an overall score. Comparative scores of peer institutions are also shared while preserving confidentiality. A detailed report is provided with recommendations and if the client wants assistance with implementation, IFC can offer a toolkit with a roadmap for the future.

Vitae has already gained traction with public universities and TVETs in Sub-Saharan Africa and with private HEIs in Latin America including in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. Our plan is to scale it up in other markets in MENA and East Asia-Pacific so that institutions everywhere can benefit from this systematic approach to managing one of the key challenges in higher education.

IFC hopes that Vitae will become the standard of choice for institutions focused on improving their employability and equipping their students with 21st-century skills to quickly and effectively transition into the job market.

Mohammed A. Khan is a Senior Education Specialist at IFC and principal architect of Vitae. He has over 45 years of professional experience including 30 years in higher education in Pakistan, Canada, and emerging markets in Asia, MENA, Latin America, Central Asia, and Africa.