There is an entire ecosystem that revolves around skills, and that ecosystem is changing. It started with education, and the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which, while it did not have the impact many thought it would, spawned an era of self-paced alternative education that created a boom in online courses.
This remote learning model was accelerated by the pandemic when circumstances made what had been an option mandatory. But education wasn’t the only place things shifted. They shifted in the workplace as well. Remote work was normalised, and companies and managers started to see the cost benefits as well as increases in productivity and more.
And workers? Well, they have come to expect the freedom to work where, how, and when they want. Enter what has been called by some ‘The Great Resignation” and by others ‘The Great Re-negotiation.’
Either way, it means the same things. Workers are leaving their jobs, changing careers, and looking for more education. And the face of education is changing as well. Some educators are also exploring new careers while a new generation seeks to bring innovation, diversity, equity and inclusion to all levels and areas of learning.
What does this workplace culture shift mean? And where do opportunities for education lie as a result?
A Snapshot of the Transitory Workforce
There was a time when the idea of a career meant that you went to one company, took a job there, climbed the corporate ladder as far as your education and ability would allow, and then retired from that same company.
For some, that meant moving into management or sales from more of a production level job. For others it meant relying on time in service, unions, and company benefits to ensure their families were cared for and the future was at least somewhat secure.
Formal education generally slowed or stopped outright as an employee embarked on their career. On the job training continued of course, and along the way some learners would return to school to better their career prospects, move further up in their company or chosen field.
But over the last few decades, that has been changing for a number of reasons, and that model not only doesn’t work any more, but it’s not what employees want:
- Rapid innovation often means jobs change or disappear, and the pace of this change is only increasing
- Companies come and go, even large ones, and as their fortunes change, their employees may seek other jobs or even careers
- Start-ups and entrepreneurship also hold an attraction for young workers, who want their work to be meaningful and exciting
The point is that both employees and learners are more transitory than ever: they’re more likely to switch jobs and careers, move or embrace the digital nomad lifestyle. To make these changes, they will need to return to learning more often – more formal learning, informal learning, and alternate forms of education that don’t involve a classroom or in some cases even a human instructor.
The moving, transitory employee creates a moving target for educators, and more importantly puts more emphasis on transferable skills, ranking equally important as the hard skills needed for a specific job.
In short, we must focus on teaching lifelong learning skills – teaching learners how to learn, how to educate themselves and how to get the most out of all forms of education throughout their lives. We must also teach them how to make better decisions about the right path to education for their desired outcome. And importantly, we must ensure they can prove their skills through modern credentials that highlight their unique skills over generic course outcomes.
As educators, we must provide them with those paths. What does that mean when it comes to learning?
Remote Work, Learning and Control
With remote work comes the need for remote learning. For most millennials and Gen Z learners, it’s not about moving to a certain location to attend a certain school. It’s about the ability to learn anywhere and any time and for as long and as short as necessary to obtain the skills they need.
That’s not to say that colleges can’t work to attract in-person learners. For instance, Cheyney University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) school in Pennsylvania offers businesses the opportunity to locate their offices on the school campus. It generates opportunities for those students who attend in person to work and satisfy internships on campus, and gives those employers the opportunity to transition students to the workplace seamlessly.
But for many learners, such perks are not what they are looking for. They want to attend college their way, choosing in person or online instruction, live lectures or courses on-demand that they can take to fit to their own schedule. Education mirrors employment, which then mirrors education. Working remotely has generated the additional demand for remote learning, which has spawned a move toward remote work.
“The pandemic just accelerated what was already happening,” Rishad Tobaccowala, author of Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data, told us. “We were already moving toward these outcomes. The pandemic showed employees and employers what we already knew was possible. It forced us to adapt.”
Employers also began to see the need for skills-based education and better job descriptions, ones that didn’t just bring them candidates, but the right candidates. Not only are employees looking for flexibility from their employers, but employers want employees to be flexible too, and able to adapt to new positions and change as job roles may change.
Learning no longer slows with the beginning of a career. Now, it is set to accelerate.
Lifelong Learning is the New Black
What’s the result of all this change? An increase in the number of lifelong learners. What was unusual is now a necessity – without lifelong learning opportunities, workers will be left behind. But what this means is that education must become more accessible for these learners, and must also offer focused education that meets their needs and wants.
What does that mean? For example, let’s say a 40 year old has been working in marketing for several years, and now wants to transition to HR. It’s been nearly two decades since their last formal education experience, and they certainly don’t need to return to university for a bachelor’s degree. In fact, many of their marketing skills may easily transfer to an HR role.
But there are differences, and whether earning a certificate or entering an accelerated master’s program is the answer, the learner will need to learn new things, from software to the various laws involved with human resources management and more.
The same is true with any career field, and as technology changes how those jobs are done, a continual need for learning emerges. There are three ways to fill that need – employers, educators, or a combination of both.
This means new course and certification types, improved evidence records, and a different approach to training. How, and where do educators and employers intersect?
The Bridge Between Employers and Education
In an ideal world, employers and educators would intersect from the start. And an increasing number of employers and educators are. Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks, and others offer tuition reimbursement for employees, whether or not their chosen major intersects with a career at the company.
This results in better retention rates and a happier workforce overall. The key is for employers to understand that the transient worker phenomena is here to stay. While the average worker stays on the job for about four years with the same company, that number declines every year. Gen Z workers say they plan to stay at jobs for an even shorter period of time, and it’s important that employers accept that fact and don’t let it impact their education and training initiatives.
As Richard Branson famously said, “Train your employees so well, it would be easy for them to leave and get another job, but treat them so well, they won’t want to.”
For educators, the future includes a lot of industry partnerships, but ones that look different than those of today. These partnerships will begin at the curriculum level, identifying the skills employers are looking for, and incorporating them into courses from the start. It also means working with employers on greater acceptance and understanding of digital credentials, skills recognition and personal evidence records.
Rich skill descriptors (RSDs) are vitally important to ensure that we are all speaking the same language. It’s through this and Credentialate’s Skills Core that the basis for rich evidence records can be created and used to form the backbone of digital credentials and portable, verifiable records.
Personal evidence is the bridge that transforms skills data into information that can be used by employers to make better hiring decisions.
These are what the digital credentials of tomorrow must deliver. But what do they look like?
The Digital Credentials of Tomorrow
What do the evidence records and credentials of tomorrow look like? There are several key factors. They must be portable, verifiable yet immutable, and accessible but secure. Credentialate provides the framework and the basis for credentials that are then created and able to be used in credential exchanges.
Credential exchanges can be hosted in a number of ways, on the blockchain or using other decentralised but secure methods. Essentially, once created, any digital badges or other evidence records are controlled by the learner. It’s the learner that can control who can access their learning records, and they can add to them throughout their lives and careers as they gain new skills and knowledge. Any evidence related to what they have learned becomes a part of this “digital CV’ that becomes much more robust than any resume could be and gives them equity and agency.
In short, educators provide skills data, that data is collated, stored, and analysed to produce a personal evidence record, and the personal evidence record is embedded into a digital credential or credentials. The employers part involves trust in the evidence record created, and the ability to access and align the skills it recognised with job requirements and descriptions.
The “New Normal”
It can all seem a bit complicated – but it doesn’t have to be. Once the system is in place, scraping the skills data and the rest of the process is automated, and usually reliant on the initial mapping input from educators.
This new lifelong learning and transitory workforce is here to stay, and it’s about more than Gen Z and Millenials. It’s about lifelong learners in jobs that are changing and evolving all the time. It is about blue collar workers quitting their jobs and heading back to school, professionals changing not only jobs but careers, and students looking to gain meaningful learning that helps them transition to earners.
The point of education becomes equipping learners not just with soft and hard skills needed for a job, but with the skills they need to be able to continue learning, such as research and study skills. Because those are what they will need to continue, grow, and modify in their careers.
For learners, this new workplace culture and emphasis on education impacts their professional ability to certify their learning, a key to their ability to learn now and to continue earning. And for employers, it provides a path to retention and access to a skilled workforce that can provide replacements as workers inevitably transition within or out of the company.
The current workplace culture is evolving and while that creates challenges for everyone, it also creates an opportunity to create and be a part of something new. And that’s something the next generation of educators, learners, and employers can all get behind.
Connect with us
As the world’s first Credential Evidence Platform, Credentialate helps you discover and share evidence of workplace skills. It creates a highly interoperable skills infrastructure that connects, collates and creates order from chaotic or dark data. It identifies skills in the curriculum, maps them to globally recognised skill definitions and aligns to frameworks. Institutions can manage and track skills attainment across the institution, against frameworks and see where improvements can be made. For each learner, a personal evidence record is created – as unique as every learners’ journey. Rich skills information, qualitative and quantitative performance data and links to artefacts of learning are baked into a verifiable digital badge that can be shared. This gives learners the confidence to speak to their strengths, the evidence to prove it and boosts their employability by sending a ‘ready-to-hire’ signal.
Stakeholders in the Modern Credential Marketplace
In this blog series, we focus on the key Stakeholders in the Modern Credential Marketplace – who they are, what drives them and what challenges and opportunities they face:
- Lens on Learners – how can micro-credentials help today’s learners achieve their education and employment goals?
- Lens on Educators – if micro-credentials are driving a shift in how education providers approach skill development, how are they responding and what impact does it have?
- Lens on Employers – how are companies responding to the need for work-specific skills and how are micro-credentials impacting on their ability to verify candidate skills?