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How employers, educators, and policymakers can help to advance skills-based hiring

This is part three in a series on Verified Credentials. In part one, we introduced the concept and how we believe Verified Credentials can support a more equitable world of work. In part two, we explored the technical layers including a tour of how we built and deployed our first Verified Credential. This installment continues the series by exploring our perspective on what’s needed to support greater awareness and adoption of Verified Credentials as part of a vibrant skills-based hiring ecosystem. 

Skills-based hiring presents an exciting approach to recruiting and retaining employees. Rather than relying solely on traditional indicators of success like degrees or prior job titles, skills-based hiring focuses on an individual's abilities. 

The approach has the potential to be more equitable for job seekers as it allows those with non-traditional degrees or self-acquired skills to be considered alongside candidates who have gone through traditional education or training programs. It can also be more sustainable for employers as it enables hiring managers to tap into a wider talent pool and to customize learning and development (L&D) programs to the specific needs of their employees and roles.

Realizing the potential of skills-based hiring requires a number of factors to be in place. At SkillRise, we believe that employers, training providers, job seekers, and policymakers can all play a meaningful role in advancing skills-based hiring and advancement practices. With that framing in mind, let’s break down what that might look like. 

What employers need to support skills-based hiring

In order for employers to adopt skills-based practices, the current hiring landscape will need to evolve in a few key ways: employers need access to a wider range of effective skill signals, those skill signals need to be evaluated through employer usage, and HR teams will need to learn how to use Verified Credentials as part of an candidate screening and hiring process.

First, employers need to be able to access reliable and trustworthy information about the skills and abilities of job seekers. Without that kind of data, employers may be hesitant to adopt skills-based hiring practices. According to research from McKinsey, nearly half of surveyed employers cited a lack of means of validating skills as a key factor that needs to be addressed in order for skills-based hiring to be adopted.

What do we mean by reliable data? Simply put, it’s about confirming that applicants possess specific skills. Historically (and likely moving forward), that’s often accomplished through skills-based assessments like those associated with the Microsoft Office Specialist credential. The exams assess a user’s ability to use software like Word and Excel in a professional environment. Put another way, if an applicant passes the Word exam, an employer can be confident that they know how to use the tools in a practical way.

Contrast that with the current typical hiring process, where an applicant may list “Proficient with Microsoft Word'' on their resume. While that may be true, it’s challenging for the employer to confidently trust that data during an interview. Quality skills assessments can therefore help address the issue by providing employers with verifiable data about what applicants can do.

As more skills assessments are published and added to the workforce ecosystem, a new challenge emerges: there are over one million credentials and assessment methods in the current landscape. Which are trustworthy and can serve as a useful signal or predictor of success? Which are not a useful indicator for employers to consider when evaluating applicants?

Another example of a credential earned by passing a high-quality assessment is the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. The PMP credential is accepted by a variety of employers as reflecting the skills and knowledge needed to succeed as a project manager. A natural question then arises: how do employers, training providers, and job seekers know that the PMP is a valid assessment of project management skills, especially for new skills assessments? 

New tests have several options when it comes to achieving this caliber of trust, including conducting small pilots with employers and training providers. For example, SkillRise recently launched a digital skills assessment and credential (a process we explored in part two of this series). Built on the best learning design principles, pilot testing is helping us understand more about its usability, and deployments slated for 2023 will help us understand its effectiveness in serving as a trusted signal of digital skills for today’s job seeker. 

To be verified or not?

Remember that any credential can serve as an effective signal simply by being accepted by an employer. It doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s a degree from a university, or a micro-credential developed by a third party. This is where Verified Credentials and the data included in the technology can be so useful for the workforce ecosystem. As noted, there are millions of credentials in existence. With Verified Credentials, an employer can access details about what skills were assessed, the methodology, and other various data points. So when a company adopts a credential and decides to prioritize candidates that have passed a certain assessment, that act establishes a market-driven trust in the tool. 

Then, as more quality assessments are developed and their related credentials are adopted by employers, additional data and case studies can serve to further amplify that trust and recognition.

Note that when it comes to navigating the maze of credentials that exist, there are several organizations developing marketplaces for exploring and understanding credentials: Credential Engine maintains a repository of over one million credentials, and Digital Promise offers a similar, searchable database. 

Another important aspect for employer adoption of skills-based hiring is the training of HR teams on credentials and digital wallets, which is the software used to display credentials used (like a LinkedIn profile). This includes understanding what credentials are, how to use digital wallets, and how to understand the metadata included in a Verified Credential. This is important for verifying the authenticity of the credentials and for making informed hiring decisions that are, in part, based on credentials and verified skills.

Education and training providers can advance skills-based hiring as well

To fully support job seekers in the skills-based hiring ecosystem, education and training providers can focus on helping individuals earn industry-recognized credentials and teach them how to use those credentials within the job application process. 

To that end, training providers could consider aligning curriculum with industry-backed credentials so that job seekers are learning the skills and knowledge that are in demand by employers. One method for ensuring curricular alignment is for adult education organizations to partner with employers and co-design the curriculum in a way that prepares job seekers to successfully pass a credential-backed assessment. 

Training providers can also work to train job seekers on what credentials are and how to use digital wallets so that when a credential is earned, they have the skills and tools needed to add that credential to a digital wallet and to be prepared to talk about what that credential means during a job interview.

What job seekers need to succeed in a skills-based ecosystem

For job seekers to access verified credentials and take advantage of the opportunities presented by skills-based hiring, they must have access to quality pathways that lead to industry-accepted credentials. This means being able to access training and education programs that are aligned with industry needs and that prepare them to earn the credentials that are most in demand by employers. 

Additionally, job seekers need to acquire the digital skills that will help them navigate the world of digital credentials and wallets. This includes having the knowledge on how to access and use a digital wallet, understanding how to present their credentials to employers, and practicing how to talk about what a credential means during the interview process. 

As noted, there are over one million credentials currently in existence. That can be a challenging ecosystem for job seekers to navigate. We therefore think more work can be done around creating searchable and sortable databases where it’s easy for adult learners to see which credentials have been adopted by employers and therefore indicate a potential meaningful pathway towards employment. For now, job seekers and employers are in a challenging position given the newness of the technology and the lack of market-driven validation. This is where training providers and policy-makers alike can help to evolve the ecosystem. 

The role of policy in supporting skills-based hiring 

Policymakers can also play a key role in supporting the adoption of skills-based hiring practices by employers. Opportunities exist around providing funding for quality training programs that lead to industry-accepted credentials. One example is the Crossing the Finish Line program in Indiana where students can receive free tuition and books to complete a credential program. Examples like this can help raise awareness about credentials while also providing much-needed support for students to successfully access and complete these programs.

Policymakers can also help to fund research into the effectiveness of verified credentials and skills-based hiring practices. This can help to provide evidence-based insights into the benefits and challenges of skills-based hiring, and can inform policy making and future investment decisions. A recent example in Colorado shows how policymakers can work together to strengthen the credential and career navigation ecosystem. 

Overall, policymakers have a crucial role to play in supporting skills-based hiring by investing in education and training programs that lead to quality credentials, promoting the recognition and use of these credentials by employers, and supporting research to better understand the effectiveness of skills-based hiring practices.

What’s next?

At SkillRise, we are just finishing deployment of two new digital skills courses aligned to an assessment and corresponding verified credential. We hope that these resources will help employers and educators across the country train and signal digital skills for workers, especially those skilled through alternative routes. Planned future research will help us understand the effectiveness of these resources in helping adult learners secure new and better jobs.

If you are interested in bringing our digital skills courses and assessment to your organization or company, please contact Caroline McKinnon, Senior Program Manager of Adult Learning at ISTE. You can also join our free email newsletter to get ongoing updates as the courses and assessment are published in 2023.

The SkillRise Editorial Team consists of:

  • As Director of Research at ISTE, Brandon Olszewski brings experience in educational research, edtech, and adult professional learning to the project. He leads the SkillRise initiative. Find Brandon on Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Caroline McKinnon is ISTE's Senior Program Manager of Adult Learning and brings over 25 years of experience in domestic and international education, working with refugees and workforce development groups. Find Caroline on LinkedIn.
  • Lea Downing is Project Manager with SkillRise, bringing to the project experience in adult education, community college education, edtech, and nonprofit management. Find Lea on LinkedIn.
  • Joey Lehrman is a Project Manager with SkillRise and the Assistant Director of Program Effectiveness and Data for the Adult Education Program at Delgado Community College, where he brings over 15 years of experience as a classroom teacher and administrator in adult education and career pathway programming. Find Joey on Twitter or LinkedIn.