digital credentials

5 key steps in developing a system for digital credentials

As job applicants seek to demonstrate their skills, institutions can arm their students with digital credentials

A new field guide for community college and university leaders outlines five key strategies to help institutions develop a system for digital credentials.

The guide, “Partnering with Employers to Create Workforce-Relevant Credentials,” is intended to steer faculty and administrators through a collaborative design and implementation process for developing a workforce-relevant credentialing system.

The five digital-credential strategies come from best practices of institutions profiled in the report.

“In Colorado, we found that employer-driven digital credentials helped our graduates to better articulate their skills–and allowed regional employers to identify untapped talent,” says Brenda Perea, director of education and workforce solutions at Credly. Perea launched the Colorado Community College System’s digital credentials program in 2014.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) wanted to address the communications gap between job seekers who want to share their skills and would-be employers who try to understand job applicants’ abilities. To do that, CCCS led a system-wide effort to engage employers and employment experts to identify and define the skills and competencies needed for success in the region.

Next page: Five critical steps in your institution’s digital-credentials program

Project leaders discovered they only had to make minor adjustments to existing course content and delivery to create on-ramps to the skills employers sought. Those skills were mapped to stackable digital badges to empower students with evidence of their abilities.

“Digital credentials and badges cannot be designed or delivered in a vacuum. This guide is rooted in a belief that employer engagement matters, and shares the experiences of institutions that have flipped the credentialing model through collaboration with employers up front,” says Perea.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 77 percent of global CEOs believe that skills gaps are limiting their company’s growth. But while the skills gap stems in part from skills scarcity, it often reflects a communications gap between job-seekers eager to share what they know and employers struggling to parse the capabilities of job candidates.

As a result, a growing number of institutions have turned to digital credentials to translate student outcomes into terms that employers can understand and trust.

The five strategies include:
1. Building a team of credential champions: Bringing together a core group of individuals both inside and outside the institution to focus on creating a new credential ecosystem that harmonizes work internally as well as with employers.
2. Identifying priority industries or employers: Identifying an actionable set of targets–a particular industry or a set of employers–and solving the specific workforce challenges by developing a responsive set of digital credentials.
3. Creating an onboarding program: Presenting the new credentials to stakeholders and defining the value of those credential–an approach thatdirectly impacts the adoption of the new credentials.
4. Issuing credentials: Documenting workforce-relevant achievements with transparency and evidence in a portable, learner-centered medium.
5. Conducting after-action reviews: Analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how digital- credential initiatives and associated processes can be improved to enable scalability within the institution.

“In reviewing our initial findings, it was clear that the credentials that had the greatest impact were those developed in partnership with local employers,” says Ken Lindblom, dean of the School of Professional Development at Stony Brook University.

“Including employers from the very beginning allowed us to ensure that 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.”

The experiences of a diverse cadre of institutions are documented in the report, which features insights and observations from leaders at institutions including the CCCS, Macomb Community College, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, and the University System of Maryland.

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Laura Ascione

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