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How a Verified Credential works and how we built and deployed our first credential

In part one of this series, we introduced the world of Verified Credentials (VCs) and how we at SkillRise believe VCs can lead to a more equitable future of work. In part two, we will dive deeper by looking at how this technology-enabled future presents unique opportunities for employers and job seekers alike, including a look at how we built and deployed our first credential here at ISTE’s SkillRise. 

A brief look at current hiring practices

Imagine being tasked to hire a new staff member. A few days after posting the job description, you’ve received hundreds of applications and resumes. How do you find the time to review each resume and to ensure you are finding the right candidate for the position?

This is where Automated Tracking Systems (ATS) play a significant role in current hiring practices. An ATS is a piece of software that scans resumes and looks for keywords related to a job. So instead of needing to review each resume individually, the software automatically scans and narrows the list of candidates to only those that meet the criteria for the role. 

On the surface, an ATS sounds like a meaningful solution to help hiring managers save time as the machine does the heavy lifting in scanning resumes and identifying qualified candidates to interview.

The problem is that current ATS solutions have limitations, namely that they can only recognize specific types of credentials like a high school diploma or college degree. These limitations lead to talent recruitment practices that do not support equitable opportunity, especially for workers skilled through alternative routes. According to a recent report from Jobs for the Future, ATS tend to eliminate candidates that may otherwise be a good fit for the role:

“Many workers who are unemployed or underemployed want full time jobs that pay family-sustaining wages but are overlooked by hiring processes that rely on automated recruiting systems that aren’t able to recognize or reward learning or experience that isn’t formally credentialed. This excludes applicants who have some college but no degree and leaves an estimated 27 million capable workers “hidden” from employers and excluded from opportunities for advancement. This pool of hidden talent includes caregivers, veterans, immigrants, refugees, and others who aren’t visible to the 75 percent of U.S. employers—a figure that includes 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies—who rely on these automated systems.”

So while it’s true that ATS solutions can simplify the hiring process for employers, they can also add barriers for job seekers that may otherwise be qualified for a position. Simply put, ATS can be limiting for both employers and applicants.

Data that is more easily readable for humans and machines

Verified Credentials (VCs) present a unique solution to this challenge. Current implementations of ATS are limited in the data that they can understand on a resume. For example, a machine can read and understand what a “bachelor’s degree” is but can’t necessarily understand volunteer experience, partial college credit, micro-credentials, or other non-traditional signals of work and school experience.

VCs expand the types and structure of data that can be included on a resume, and in doing so, enable applicants to capture and share a wider range of their skills and experiences. So instead of just being able to look for a keyword, the software can scan a deeper and richer set of data points.

To continue the example from above, let’s say our hiring manager is looking for a candidate with specific skills, like the ability to use spreadsheets to manage budgets. While there may be several applicants who have worked with spreadsheets in previous roles, those candidates may be skipped by the ATS that is unable to decode their resume. 

Instead, imagine if applicants were able to list a credential on their resume, like Microsoft Excel certification. When the ATS scans the resume, it would find a metadata file that looks something like this:

An example of the metadata found in a Microsoft Excel credential


While indiscernible for most humans, these data are easily readable for machines that can see and understand that the applicant has earned a credential related to spreadsheets. 

Those applicants would then be selected by the software and forwarded to a hiring manager; but the magic of Verified Credentials doesn’t stop there. 

Imagine receiving a resume that says something like, “Spreadsheet developer” as the position title, and includes the following description of their work: “Developed spreadsheet data dashboards for the sales team that led to 50% increase in company revenues.”

While this may sound great on the surface, how can we validate this data point to ensure the applicant should be invited to interview?

With a Verified Credential, a hiring manager can use metadata to understand and evaluate a wider range of inputs, including: who published the assessment, when it was earned, how it was earned, and other details. With that data point validated, it’s up to the hiring manager to determine how to use that information to inform candidate screening…and if the applicant should be invited for an interview.

In the current hiring environment, where employers are struggling to fill roles, and many job seekers possess non-traditional work and school experiences, the Verified Credential solution can enable job seekers to better capture and communicate their skills and experience, and allow employers to recruit from a wider pool of qualified talent. 

A quick tour of the metadata

As noted, VCs are unique in that they contain more data than a traditional resume can include. Think about it like a digital file that when opened, contains detailed information about that credential. 

Here’s an example of the kind of metadata found in this Bachelor’s Degree represented as a credential:

  • When the credential was earned
  • If the credential expires, and if so, when it expires
  • What courses were taken
  • What grades were earned in those courses
  • How long it takes to earn the credential
  • How the courses were assessed
  • Links to artifacts or a portfolio of work samples
  • And much more. 

It’s important to again revisit how this often works in current hiring processes: when a hiring manager sees a bachelor’s degree on a resume, it can be difficult if not impossible to really understand what that degree means. What courses did that applicant take? Did they do well in the courses? Is it possible to see examples of their work from college? Traditional resumes don’t provide this quality or depth of information. With Verified Credentials, because of the rich data included in a credential, applicants can communicate more information, and employers can use richer data to evaluate candidates.

The potential impact of this tech-driven solution is hard to overstate: it can transform the way learners showcase their education and work experiences, enabling them to better capture and articulate knowledge and skills. It also enables employers to draw from a wider pool of talent at a time when most employers continue to struggle filling open positions. 

As discussed, this can be especially impactful for applicants that are skilled through alternative routes, including adult learners that have completed some college-level coursework that is often not recognized in current hiring processes. Even if the applicant hasn’t completed a full degree program, adult learners can still showcase the skills and experience they’ve developed through college classes, volunteer work, and other non-traditional experiences.  

How are the data “verified”?

As a quick aside, it can be helpful to understand what “verified” means. When a hiring manager sees that a candidate has a bachelor’s degree, there’s currently only one way to truly verify the authenticity of that degree. The candidate would need to submit an official transcript request to their college or university, often for a fee, and then send that transcript to the employer.

With Verified Credentials, a hiring manager could see a bachelor’s degree, click on the metadata, and learn that the degree is authentic and was officially issued by a school. And this can be true for any kind of credential. Verified just means that it’s real, and that can be authenticated through a series of checks that the technology can do automatically.

How we built our first Verified Credential

At SkillRise, we are focused on helping job seekers build the digital and lifelong learning skills needed to thrive in the future of work. To that end, we’ve recently developed two new courses and a skills-based assessment aligned with the Profile of a Lifelong Learner.

The new digital skills assessment is an interactive exam that places test takers in simulated digital environments to evaluate their ability to use digital tools to solve problems, collaborate, and build new skills across a lifetime. 

Anyone that passes the assessment will earn a Verified Credential that is automatically issued to them when they pass the assessment. 

Here’s a quick overview of how that technology works. A test taker will:

  • Take the assessment through Brightspace, a learning management system from D2L
  • Within Brightspace, we’ve developed an interactive and simulated digital environment where test takers can showcase their ability to use digital tools to solve problems, collaborate, and so forth. The interactive assessment was developed with Articulate360, an eLearning authoring tool. 
  • After passing the assessment (with a minimum score of 80% correct), Brightspace will automatically create a badge and issue it to the test taker.
  • The test taker’s account in Brightspace is managed through Salesforce, which lives on top of Brightspace as a user management system.
  • Using an API, the ISTE Salesforce instance is integrated with Canvas Credentials, formerly known as Badgr, which issues the credential to the test taker’s digital wallet. 

What’s especially great about the process is that all systems automatically speak to each other. In other words, when a test taker passes the assessment, Brightspace will issue the badge, Salesforce will see the badge, and Salesforce will communicate the badge to Canvas Credential; these products are entirely interoperable and the process works automatically. After that, the test taker “owns” the credential and can display it on LinkedIn or any other digital wallet 

Once added to their LinkedIn profile, test takers can showcase the credential during their next job application by saying something to the effect of, “I have earned this credential that showcases my ability to use digital tools in a modern workplace.” As noted, all of this happens seamlessly and automatically, a process that is only possible thanks to technology integrations. Most importantly, the test taker needs to only focus on preparing to pass the assessment and then learning how to add a credential to their digital wallet. Everything else happens in the background. 

To reiterate once more, we are especially excited about the potential for this assessment to support non-traditional adult learners who possess meaningful skills and experiences that can’t always be easily communicated on a conventional resume. With the new digital skills assessment and Verified Credential, all job seekers will have the opportunity to define and showcase the digital skills they can bring to the workplace.

The new tool was developed in partnership with Northstar Digital Literacy, a program of Literacy Minnesota, and will be released in 2023. 

Concluding thoughts

While the development, implementation, and adoption of Verified Credentials is still in its infancy, we believe that the future is bright with employers starting to adopt skills-based hiring practices, training programs building and deploying new verified credentials, and job seekers earning high-quality credentials that can enhance their career prospects. 

To learn more about the SkillRise digital skills assessment, sign-up for our free monthly newsletter where we will announce the release of the assessment and credential in early 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.

Follow us on Twitter @SkillRiseOrg to stay in touch!