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Education, work and people could be harmonised more effectively if more emphasis was placed on testing knowledge. With the EDUWORKS consortium, UvA researchers have obtained a €3.6 million grant to conduct further research in this area.

Stefan Mol

“The knowledge economy is an accepted term, but in practice testing of the job-specific knowledge of job applicants is seldom or never carried out. Even though we think that knowledge is one of the crucial antecedents for someone’s future job performance.” Researchers Gabór Kismihók and Stefan Mol of the University of Amsterdam Business School (ABS) are investigating how knowledge tests can be used to select candidates for specific job profiles as well as for determining individually tailored training needs. Together with Professor Kea Tijdens of the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS), they have obtained a 3.6 million euro European grant for establishing and managing the EDUWORKS consortium, made up of six different universities and businesses in Germany, Hungary, Ireland, The Netherlands and Spain. This consortium is aimed at training twelve PhD researchers and three post-docs to develop expertise on how knowledge may facilitate the matchmaking process between individuals, education and the labour market. 

“Our idea is that based on specific knowledge, one can achieve a better match between individuals, education and jobs than is possible using more general methods currently in use. Educational institutions can modify their programmes to better meet the demands of the labour market and ensure that people completing their programmes possess the required knowledge. These institutions are funded by taxpayers so it is a reasonable expectation that they educate people who upon graduation can find employment," says Mol. He also sees opportunities for people who experience problems in the labour market and for more flexibility. For example, foreigners seeking employment would be able to prove their suitability for a job through a job-knowledge assessment rather than having to repeat an entire programme of study in Dutch. Older applicants with outdated degrees and/or qualifications could also be helped in finding employment. According to Mol ‘even if they don’t have the right papers, their (informally attained) knowledge may still qualify them for particular jobs’. “So yes, while we have idealistic motives we are also in the process of setting up a commercial company to develop job-knowledge assessments for businesses. We are doing that because we believe this is an innovative selection method that has been underrated. That’s why we want to introduce it to the business world as quickly as possible.” 

During job application procedures, the current emphasis is on intelligence tests, unstructured interview and competences. Mol explains “the academic literature in the field of selecting personnel shows that intelligence is the best predictor of how someone will perform. There has been a great deal of research on this. But here one is judged on something that cannot be changed. There’s a good reason that IQ is such a good predictor: it’s linked to knowledge acquisition. Intelligent people learn more quickly and this knowledge is the driver that enables better performance.” 

By determining exactly what they need to know to perform effectively in a certain job, you can equip people with the knowledge they are missing. “And if there is more insight into what people need to know, problems can be resolved by addressing knowledge gaps in education or training.  Knowledge assessment tests could also be used as a diagnostic tool for educational institutions. If all students from a specific programme are missing essential job knowledge, then that is a clear signal,” says Mol. 

If jobs can be defined as a sum total of knowledge - a type of Lego block construction – then the knowledge assessment approach could completely change the way we think about jobs. Mol: “One could then create completely new job profiles based on the knowledge needed by the organisation at that particular time.”