‘Credential As You Go’ aims to help employers recognize the disjointed path of learning

Most prospective employees who seek high-demand jobs enter the workforce after spending four to six years at a college and earning a formal degree. But not everyone takes the same journey. There are other workers who received their education not through college, but through a variety of other certifications, like badges, certificates, and licenses. Given all of life’s curveballs, there are also others who never finished their college education, despite earning a large chunk of credits during their time there. Unfortunately for those people — like both my mother and father who completed more than 90% of their bachelor’s degrees but never received all the necessary credit to earn the degrees — close doesn’t count. Doors for economic mobility are shut in the faces of this talent pool.  

In the cases above, the learning these workers take on is still valid and can still qualify them for a rewarding career. Yet, without a framework to make sense of these credentials, employers are hesitant to hire employees with non-traditional backgrounds, and often screen them out with their Applicant Tracking System. As the War for Talent regains strength, these employers end up overlooking competent talent during a time when they really can’t afford to pass on good employees.

This is a scenario a new initiative is hoping to change. Known as “Credential As You Go,” the project is led by a research professor at George Washington University, a director at SUNY Empire State College, and the president and CEO of the Corporation for Skilled Workforce nonprofit. Together with a grant from the Lumina Foundation, the team built a framework that employers can hopefully use to standardize and make sense of the over 700,000 types of short-form credentials currently available.

As EdSurge reported earlier this May, “Its goals include creating a national credentialing system designed around what the journey through higher education and job training actually looks like for many people: intermittent, nonlinear and unpredictable.”

It’s an initiative that brings a certain pragmatism that’s been missing for adult learners when it comes to their education and hiring consideration. Employers who only focus on four-year programs as the ultimate signal for qualification ignore the myriad of granular skills developed along the education journey. It’s a mindset that accommodates full-time learners and abandons full-time earners, the latter of which many adults find themselves to be. 

Additionally, new and critical skills come on to the scene regularly, without clear career onramps for those who already have a degree. These new skills can turn into both new interdisciplinary roles or get remixed into existing jobs. An example of the latter is how nearly every field these days requires some type of data analysis and interpretation. And not to be too self-referential, but L&D professionals themselves need more experience in UX research and design more than ever. 

When the solutions to address this rapid transition are focused on multi-year programs, it raises the barriers artificially for employers to fund the upskilling. Employees also have to balance learning and doing their existing jobs. Adopting a “Credential As You Go” approach offers more opportunities for interdisciplinary programs that solve for the rapidly changing context in which we live.

One’s education can be a straight-and-narrow path along the college track. It can also be a long and winding road full of detours, hiatuses, and tangents. Nonetheless, the skills people learn and the credentials they earn should be recognized. This allows employers to simultaneously expand the talent pool for prospective employees, as well as close the skill gap through continual education development for existing workers.

Written by Matthew Daniel

Principal, Employer Solutions

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  • As difficult as Covid-19, the worst infectious disease outbreak since 1918 has been both domestic and international, the need for lifelong learning can not be underscored. With mass uncertainty comes opportunity. Many are calling this time period the fourth industrial revolution. With so many advances in medicine and technology, the need for constant learning and is paramount to remain employable and relative. Professional career development comes in many forms, many of which have been addressed in this outstanding article. Thanks for sharing.

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