Digital Credentials Can Close Communication and Skills Gaps

Workers qualify for their jobs because they have the necessary skills and knowledge. Digital credentials are becoming increasingly valuable as “proof” of worker qualifications, along with licenses, certificates and degrees. Digital credentials, because they can be very descriptive, can work as a bridge between the skills gap employers face and workers seeking employment.

Reports continue to show the urgency of the skills gap. In May seven states recorded all-time lows in unemployment, but according to PWC’s 20th CEO Survey 77 percent of global CEOs say that skills gaps limit their company’s growth. A Business Roundtable report said that the skills gap is “a national crisis threatening our economic future.”

A lack of qualified workers is a reason for the skills gap, but with such low unemployment, “skills scarcity alone is not to blame,” says Brenda Perea Director of Education and Workforce Solutions at Credly, a digital credential platform. “The challenge also stems from a communications gap between job-seekers eager to share what they know and employers that struggle to understand and parse the capabilities of would-be employees.”

Credly recently released a “field guide” that helps community college and university leaders work with employers to bridge that communications gap and create credentials that are relevant to the workforce. “Key Truths” in the field guild are important to employers and adult learners. These truths can be summarized to say that employers need a better way to identify skilled workers and recognize their talents and abilities. Without this, the skills gap and the number of unfilled advanced manufacturing positions will continue to increase.

Digital credentials present a way to close the communications gap. For example, digital credentials offer higher education institutions the chance to be very specific about people’s abilities and talents. They can recognize someone for technical skills such as advanced JavaScript or digital literacy. Schools can identify specific skills such as precision welding or written communication. They can identify people with important soft skills such as initiative or critical thinking, or identify a person who has been a project leader. Naming specific skills can be valuable for adult learners who have acquired knowledge and abilities through both academic and work experiences.

Businesses and schools working together to develop digital credentials can bridge the gaps, whether they are skills gaps between employer needs and employee skills or communication gaps – or trying to match the two. Ken Lindblom, Dean of the School of Professional Development at Stony Brook University says of their digital credentials, “Including employers from the very beginning allowed us to ensure the credentials prioritized the competencies employers required, and that we used workforce language —rather than academic language—to describe the skills indicated by the badge.”

HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), an interdisciplinary community of humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists, and technologists, believes that digital credentials will continue to be relevant. “The world is changing fast and, today more than ever, traditional modes of assessment fail to capture the learning that happens everywhere and at every age. Digital badges are a powerful new tool for identifying and validating the rich array of people’s skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and competencies. Digital badges inspire new pathways to learning and connect learners to opportunities, resources, and one another.”