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While it would be great to have a federal or even global framework, because of the needs of different organizations, any framework must be adapted to meet their needs. Let’s look at the purpose of frameworks, flexibility, funding, and what it all means when we put it together.

The argument for the development of 21st century skills is not a new one. However, one of the prominent issues in this area is a framework for hanging such skills on. In other words, as we evolve in this area, we not only need to speak the same language of employability, we also need to agree upon a framework, or rather a series of frameworks that allow learners to showcase what they have learned, employees to certify what they have learned, and employers to verify those skills.

In reality, it is slightly more complicated than that.

The Purpose of Frameworks

Thinking back to our previous discussion around the definitions of capabilities versus skills or competencies the bulk of the efforts to date have focused around capability frameworks. The Institute for Working Futures through decades of research, has released the third edition of its Human Capability Framework - Reference Framework. Their website states that “Everyone has unlocked potential. By focusing on competencies or explicit knowledge, we miss a person’s true talent and potential”.

In Australia, the Public Sector has similarly concentrated on developing capability frameworks, although these are not uniform across the entire Australian Public Sector.

Other frameworks concentrate on the skills required for specific jobs and/or industries such as the Skills Framework developed by the Singapore Government in partnership with employers, industry associations, unions, and professional bodies.

The NSW State Government Capability framework has a clearly stated purpose: “... a foundational tool that supports the public sector to attract, recruit, develop and retain a responsive and capable workforce.” The two key words in the phrase above are responsive and capable. How does it work?

  • Standardised job design and role descriptions
  • Recruitment practices
  • Performance development practices
  • Mobility
  • Learning and development activities
  • Career planning conversations and activities
  • Workforce planning

Noting that the first item on the list is standardised job design and role descriptions, we must speak the same language of employability, and that language must be the cornerstone of any skills framework.

The framework also includes learners, human resources personnel, and career and workforce planning. Learning and development activities in conjunction with mobility ensure the learner that the skills they gain today will still be applicable in the next step in their career.

In the corporate sector the IBM program My Inner Genius is a free assessment tool that helps individuals understand “what they can do” rather than just “what they have done.” The capability assessment not only reveals capability, it matches those abilities with roles in IT that the user may not have considered or previously known existed.

But it goes a step further. Once areas have been identified where the user will likely succeed, the program offers “complete learning journeys to get you started.” Learners earn IBM badges that can build their digital resume even if their next position is not with IBM.

Walmart Academy has a similar purpose, offering lower and middle management courses from two to six weeks long that provide new skills to enhance career advancement. Whether private or government initiated, each framework has a purpose: to prepare the attendees for a clear career path using micro-courses that result in micro-certifications or digital badges that enhance their resume without the need for a two or even four year university degree.

The Requirement for Flexibility

From these examples, it is easy to see the clear need for flexibility in any framework. Walmart employees will not need or perhaps even desire the same capabilities as the IT worker in the My Inner Genius program. In fact, the people skills required of a Walmart manager may not align with the coding or analytics skills needed for an IT career. However, both may require critical thinking skills and other similar “soft skills.”

To be successful, a framework must be adaptable to a given purpose. A federal education framework may be useful for base skills that transfer to any career path, but a more specific framework is required whenever specific hard skills are introduced into the equation.

The soft skills needed have been branded a number of ways, but what they are is rarely argued. Boiled down by Tom Ravenscroft, called by skillsbuilder.org “the most quietly passionate advocate for skills curriculum in education today,” they are “teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem-solving, listening, presenting, aiming high and staying positive.”

“These are all skills that can be taught, as long as they are taught in the right order,” Ravencroft says in the article, Education’s Missing Piece. “Every child and young person in mainstream education can achieve a high level of competence in these skills – we just need to teach them.”

So why is this type of framework not more widely adopted by educators and employers? Again, the answer is both simple, and complex.

Funding and Frameworks

In a paper titled “What Work Requires of Schools” created by the United States’ government in 1991, a full three decades ago, one of the key findings was this:

The nation’s schools must be transformed into high-performance organizations in their own right. Despite a decade of reform efforts, we can demonstrate little improvement in student achievement. We are failing to develop the full academic abilities of most students and utterly failing the majority of poor, disadvantaged, and minority youngsters. By transforming the nation’s schools into high-performance organizations, we mean schools relentlessly committed to producing skilled graduates as the norm, not the exception.

The problem is that this has not happened, at least not in a significant way. Funding is only one reason, but it may be a key one. Many school districts and public universities are simply struggling to maintain the status quo, let alone acquire funding for massive curriculum changes necessary to truly teach and verify these 21st century skills.

COVID has not helped, with first year enrollments down more than 13% overall. The worse news is that for at-risk populations, enrollment numbers have dropped nearly 30%.

Coupled with dropping college budgets impacted by cancelled athletic events, reduced returning students, and increased remote learning and off-campus housing, funding is even more of an issue.

The same is true of many employers. While some IT and eCommerce companies have thrived, others have lost revenue, and one of the first things cut are employee benefits. Even if they are not slashed from the budget, employee layoffs mean fewer people have access to benefits they once had, and employer incentives to continue them or implement new programs is much lower.

Government support is one possible answer, but with national budgets stretched as well, funding may be hard to find. And without massive federal and private funding, it will be difficult to implement standardized frameworks on a large scale.

Skills Equal Employability

There is no doubt that frameworks have a purpose and serve it well when implemented. Large corporations, governments, and other institutions see the benefits clearly. The right skills equal employability, and employable candidates make a company more profitable and efficient.In the same vein, if capability assessment and the use of frameworks can unlock the potential to transfer to jobs of the future, then the planned redundancies on the books for many large corporations could be averted.Transferable soft skills provide career security as ever advancing technology changes the face of the workplace.

If micro-credentialing or digital badging is to become a central part of both learning and employability, frameworks are a necessary piece of the puzzle. What do you think? What is the best path to establishing frameworks? What sources of funding would be the most beneficial and viable?

We’d love to hear from you, and add to the discussion regarding skills-based learning.

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Untangling the Modern Credential Marketplace

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In this blog series, we seek to untangle the modern credential marketplace by examining it from multiple perspectives, including:
  • The changing nature and increasing focus on skills in employment settings
  • How required skills are identified for newly-created roles 
  • How skills are aligned to employment opportunities in the new global economy
  • How education providers may meet the education needs of the future
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