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Over the past year, we’ve focussed our Lens on Learners: the types of learners, how they learn, and what they want from their education. With our Lens on Educators, we’ve explored what it will take for the education system to effectively bridge the gap between learners and employers.

In that process, we’ve talked about the move toward digital credentials, the validation and verification of skills, and even how employers are adding their own education frameworks internally to acquire and retain skilled talent.

What’s often missing from the headlines is the way corporations and institutions can, and should work together to streamline the education-to-work ecosystem. There is work being done, though, and as we now turn our Lens on Employers, our first step will be to examine the collaborations between educators and industry that may very well change this area for good.

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The Impact of the Great Resignation

It is crucial that we not ignore the current state of the employment market. The “Great Resignation” worldwide has changed the dynamic between job searchers and employers. The pandemic caused many workers to re-evaluate what they wanted from work, and how they wanted to work.

This left many employers scrambling for help, and it caused an interesting trend: while attorneys and healthcare workers have an extremely high burnout rate, another profession has been added to the mix: Human Resources managers. Many recruiters face challenges only made more difficult by pandemic restrictions and surges, and workers reluctant to return to their careers.
This same trend, while troublesome, has kick-started changes long overdue. Remote work has become a more common option.

Positions that once required a degree have since waived those requirements or altered them to enable the substitution of relevant experience. And listing salaries in job listings has become the norm.

While this has in some ways changed the education to workforce ecosystem, it’s far from comprehensive or certain to be permanent. What it has done is sparked conversation about employee acquisition and retention.

That conversation centres around the relationship between industry, educators, and the learners who will become employees.

Validation and Verification of Skills

The first, and perhaps the most vital form of cooperation between educators and industry is the streamlining of both the validation and verification of skills. An example of this is 1EdTech Foundation and IMS Global Learning Consortium's Wellspring Initiative, based on the use of open standards for verifiable digital credentials. These capture learning achievements and skills that can be presented in a way that empowers learners to find jobs. This is an effort to transform the education system to “move from valuing seat-time to skills.”

In fact, in a recent survey titled Digital Credentials and Competency Frameworks: Exploring Employer Readiness and Use, a survey of 750 HR leaders designed by Northeastern University, when asked to characterise the utility of traditional college transcripts, only 44% of HR leaders considered them very or extremely useful. While in most cases this learning is verified, most managers also see value in means, such as digital credentials, that would make transcripts and degrees more easily verifiable.

This lack of reliance on transcripts and degrees corresponds with the fact that “34% of HR leaders indicated that their organisation is operating with a skills-based hiring strategy that focuses more on competency in hiring rather than over-relying on college degrees: this is an increase from 23% in a similar survey question three years ago.” Over half reported that their organisation is considering transitioning to this type of policy.

With even the verification of paper diplomas and transcripts becoming easier (and going digital) it’s possible for employers to validate a candidate’s qualifications more easily. The key from educators is something we explored previously in our article about how educators can help learners identify and talk to their transferable skills.

And according to this survey, more HR professionals are gaining knowledge of and experience with digital badges. But there is still work to be done. Over half say they don’t know much about digital badges or have not even heard of them.

In short, what the survey showed was that while there is certainly interest from industry in digital solutions to skills assessment, hiring, training, and credentialing, most think such approaches might be a long way off. And when asked what would hinder them from implementing new technology, the top two answers were budget and time.

The interesting thing is that this is mirrored in our own research and what we heard from educators, who would love to implement more robust digital credentialing and skills-based programs. Many cited budget and time concerns. In fact, one respondent said simply: “Who would authorise/assess digital badges to ensure quality and reliability? It’s an onerous [and time-consuming] task.”
It’s also about shifting the perspective of higher education and universities. “We're working in the [Continuing Professional Education] space - so work-focused micro-credentials are our emerging priority to build,” one respondent said. “They also should be 100% employability focus[ed] but shifting university culture…”

We’ve often talked in our Lens on Educators series about both budget and time, but it again comes into play when we shift to look through our Lens on Employers. Both see the need for change, and in fact to bridge the gap and smooth the process, many are working together directly with some amazing initiatives.

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Direct Cooperation Between Institutions and Industry

While we have talked in the past about companies like IBM, Google, Apple, and others developing their own internal frameworks, courses and even digital credentials, we’ve also talked about how some of these companies, and others like Tesla, have widely stated that college degrees are no longer required for many positions.

But there’s more. Many industries and even governments are partnering with higher education institutions directly to provide education as a benefit for current employees, offer learners jobs upon successful graduation, and offer internships that can, and often do, lead to employment.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Norway and Industry Programs

Norway has long been known for great education programs and innovations, and the government there tends to put their money behind the words they say. Recently, the government allocated $4.5 million euros toward the education of 4500 people in various industry programs.

“The government wants more employees, unemployed people, as well as people who have been laid off to have the chance to gain more skills in order to remain employed or to find a new job,” The Minister of Research and Higher Education Henrik Asheim said. “Here we cooperate with the social partners to create short-term courses that can be taken in combination with work and that are tailored to the businesses and employees' demand.”

But that isn’t all. Since the onset of COVID, the government has offered more scholarships and subsidised loans and declared that it will participate in Horizon Europe & Erasmus + 2021-2027, a cross-border initiative with other European nations.
Unlike the United States, Norway has seen an increase in college enrolments over the last couple of years.

The United Kingdom and Apprenticeship Programs

What Norway has done with education, the UK has attempted with apprenticeship programs, which offer a way for learners and potential workers to enter apprenticeship at a variety of levels in several industries.

The biggest issue with this program currently? COVID. There are some things that simply cannot be taught virtually, and since all but the most vital in-person training has been either halted or disrupted, the results of the program remain inconclusive. However, there is a bright side, and apprenticeships continue to be a priority of the British government.

Starbucks and ASU

One of the best partnerships for college education has been pioneered by Starbucks, in conjunction with Arizona State University in the United States. It started with Arizona State University President Michael Crow, and his realisation that a number of degrees could be offered fully online even before COVID was an issue.

At the same time, Starbucks struggled with employee retention, and with incentivising them to continue into management or other types of employment with the company. The two organisations partnered up in such a way that the student’s tuition is covered 100% between Starbucks and ASU.

Here’s how it works. The student must still cover books and supplies, but around half of their tuition is covered by a College Achievement Plan (CAP) scholarship from ASU, and the rest, after any eligible Federal grants and assistance are applied, is covered by Starbucks.

The program has been in place since 2016 and has resulted in a number of compelling success stories.

Amazon with and without Higher Education

Recently, Amazon announced a tuition program where the company will pay 100% of the tuition for many front-line workers. Similar to the Starbucks program, the internet giant will soon choose which universities it will partner with.

But apart from that effort, Amazon is among the many companies to invest in offering free training and certifications. The company offers no less than 11 industry certifications for Amazon Web Services (AWS), a critical part of the infrastructure of the internet. In fact, 92% of IT professionals report holding at least one of these certifications.

There are over 500 self-paced courses offered online and a flagship in-person training center in Seattle, with more planned this year. AWS does say that it is important to work both with traditional education and outside of it.

That is where the AWS Academy comes in, working with educators through free training and free curriculum they can use to prepare their students for the workforce. In other words, Amazon is betting its own money on training the employees it needs both now and in the future.

Hilton

One of the hardest-hit industries of the COVID era is the hotel business. Not only did they lose revenue, but the great resignation has taken its toll. Workers who are typically underpaid and underappreciated are on the front lines of the pandemic, and many have left the hospitality industry with no intention of returning.

Enter their latest partnership with Guild Education, the company behind many employer programs at companies like Walmart, Chipotle, and more. Hilton will offer professional certifications, high school diplomas, culinary education, and even college degrees to employees from the front line level to those who work in corporate offices.

Through this program, they hope to address the two key problems the hotel industry faces in the labour shortage: lower wages compared to similar service-oriented industries and a lack of opportunities for career advancement.

Technology as an enabler

The skills ecosystem is complex as there are many different stakeholders with diverse requirements. At the heart of the mission to align the current learning systems with the workforce needs of the future, lies the requirements for us all to speak a common skills language with a common skills taxonomy. Perhaps this is a task with too broad a remit, but there are groups working towards this goal - Reskilling Revolution born out of the World Economic Forum, and Open Skills Network, an initiative founded by Western Governors University, Walmart Foundation, Concentric Sky and the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

A second understanding in moving the skills ecosystems forward as we move into the digital knowledge economy, is that technology will be the enabler of this movement. Again this will be underpinned by structured common data standards as we advance to both a human and machine readable world.

At Edalex we are heavily focused on both of these aspects of the skills ecosystem with our openEQUELLA and Credentialate platforms. We join with other organisations globally in working to enable the data “translation piece” or “universal adaptor” of skills to connect the learning, reskilling and upskilling initiatives happening across the globe.

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Conclusion?

As with many of the topics we have covered in our various series so far, this is by far not a comprehensive summary of the various programs happening around the world. Nor are the tenets of these programs the only answers: rather they are a starting point.
What we do know is this: it will take technology to implement and scale changes along the way. And the process is cyclical with the learner at the centre. First, the educators must transfer not only knowledge to learners, but proof of that knowledge and the skills that result from it.

Lifelong learning is no longer optional. In rapidly changing markets, the employer must support continued education and in some cases even provide that learning. This requires additional digital credentials to provide proof of skills. Just like those offered by other educational institutions, these credentials need to be easy to validate, secure to prevent alterations, yet portable and accessible when necessary.

These solutions to bridging the skills gap, revolutionising education, and easing the education to work transition ecosystem will require innovation and teamwork from all stakeholders along with both acceptance and adoption.

Without feedback from industry, educators don’t know what skills those companies are looking for. Without input from learners, neither employers nor educators can know how to reach them and what they really want. And without educators to facilitate learning, the whole system quickly breaks down.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see increased collaboration between learning providers and employers, working towards unlocking new opportunities for learners around current and emerging skills. What’s happening at your institution? Where do you see collaborations having the greatest impact? Let us know in the comments, and if you’d like to see how Credentialate provides a skills recognition infrastructure that can help you scale up quickly, or how openEQUELLA can enable tagging industry-aligned skills to your teaching and learning resources, don’t hesitate to Contact Us.

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Credentialate is the world's first Credential Evidence Platform that helps you discover and share evidence workplace skills and is the first to introduce Skills-First Evidence Alignment. Credentialate is the only digital badging platform that includes a personalised qualitative and quantitative evidence record verified direct from within the digital badge. For institutions, educators can map and manage their skills infrastructure and track skills attainment across the institution and against existing frameworks.

If you’d like to learn more about Credentialate, we invite you to Learn More or Schedule a Demo.


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:

  • Final-Stakeholders-Modern-Credential-Marketplace-1200x685Lens 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?
  • Lens on Associations - how are professional bodies taking action to address the skills gap and what role does micro-credentialing play in with their plans?
  • Lens on Governments - what regulations and standards are being set by Governments to keep pace with the rise of micro-credentials?

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