Traditional learning-to-employment pathways are becoming a thing of the past, and educators and employers should instead focus on supporting competency-based approaches to education, training and hiring.

The case for a different focus comes from Innovate+Educate, a national nonprofit that works to create new employment pathways.

The nonprofit released a new paper that makes the case for competency-based education. Shift Happens: The Entrepreneurs, Wonks, and Investors Revolutionizing the Learning-to-Employment Landscape examines the challenges facing employers and the players working to close the skills gap through new models of learning and hiring.

Recent data suggest that traditional learning-to-employment pathways haven’t kept pace with the needs of the U.S. labor market.

In fact, one national survey found that while 59 percent of college graduates thought they were ready to apply their skills and knowledge to the real world, only 23 percent of employers felt the same way. And investors are taking note: in 2014, over $400 million in investments went to startups focused on hiring and recruiting, according to TechCrunch.

“The shift to competency-based learning and hiring is here to stay,” said Jamai Blivin, founder and CEO of Innovate+Educate. “We believe the shift is critical to creating pathways to employment for the many workers struggling or left behind in the current education-to-employment system.”

(Next page: Technology’s role in new education, training and hiring methods)

The paper provides an overview of how technology is being applied across the education, training and hiring landscape, from so-called people analytics tools used by HR chiefs, to accelerated learning providers, credentialing platforms, and social networks like LinkedIn that help job applicants showcase unique skills and talents.

“Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of credentials beyond the academic degree,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America.

Ellen Wagner, Vice President of Research at Hobsons, agrees: “The development and growth of new models of competency development and demonstration mean that today’s learners have more choices of educational experiences and credentials than ever before.”

Some statistics show that there are more than 11 million U.S. adults without a 4-year degree, but with professional certifications or licenses.

But new credentials and badging systems can be complex and add more to both employers’ and individuals’ plates.

“There has to be more attention to career and path navigation,” said McCarthy. “This has all become far too complicated and confusing for people.”

Entrepreneurs are taking notice, and are stepping up to simplify the process.

“We’re beginning to see a really exciting interplay between the analytics capabilities of employers, and the sophistication of digital credentials,” said Jonathan Finkelstein, founder of Credly. “Digital credentials can be used to represent a wide variety of accomplishments, and as they take a data-rich and machine-readable format, employers can better discover candidates and filter those candidates more accurately and efficiently.

Authored by Blivin and Ben Wallerstein, co-founder of Washington-based consulting firm Whiteboard Advisors, the paper also highlights the role of philanthropy in the shift and surfaces critical considerations for policymakers and practitioners, including the need for interoperability amongst credential platforms, and a greater emphasis on the needs of traditionally underserved populations.

“The shifting demands of our economy are, in a really positive way, putting pressure on employers to think differently about how and where they look for talent, but the data tells us that access and equity in education is just a starting point,” said Wallerstein. “This paper is about bridging the gap between the promise of higher education and the job opportunities that enable social and economic mobility.”

“Americans are dissatisfied, feel dispossessed, and they’re not going to take it anymore,” said Ryan Craig, author of College Disrupted. Craig penned the foreword for the paper. “Closing the skills gap by growing a diversity of pathways to high-value employment is the calling of our time.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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