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Introducing Skills Quest: Turning unseen skills into validated assets

Education Design Lab is developing an engaging, game-based prototype with employers and STARs (those who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes).

This is the fourth post in a Skills Validation Network blog series. Read the first, second, and third.

By Nishita Chheda, Education Designer at Education Design Lab 

The traditional path to employment emphasizes formal postsecondary education, but what about those who gain valuable experience outside the classroom?

STARs: A diverse and skilled workforce

STARs (those who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes) represent over 70 million workers who are over 25, are active in the workforce, and have a high school diploma but no bachelor’s degree. STARs have gained experience and skills through diverse paths: on the job, through military service, community college, or other alternative routes.

Service-industry jobs – such as babysitting, and working at fast-food restaurants and retail chains – are attractive to many STARs. These positions not only provide crucial launching pads and income opportunities — offering STARs accessibility to reliable incomes and flexible schedules — but also play a significant role in developing a skilled workforce. STARs develop valuable durable skills through these life and work experiences. These skills are built through real-world challenges, offering opportunities for problem-solving and interpersonal interaction.

The challenge: Making skills visible

However, a key challenge exists: translating skills gained through these experiences into tangible assets. How often do these experiences find a place on a resume, let alone receive recognition during an interview? Documentation to validate these skills can be scarce, leaving them invisible within traditional hiring practices. This leaves STARs with a skills gap, despite possessing real-world competence.

Skills demonstration

Since summer 2023, the Skills Validation Network (SVN) has been on a mission to develop tools and methods that uncover and validate the often overlooked durable skills of STARs. The Skill Validation Network’s efforts to expand skill validation methods have centered around three key methods:

  • Experience translation
  • Self-assertion
  • Skills demonstration

 

 

Among these, the Skills Demonstration work group posed a central question: How might STARs who don’t have documentation or evidence of their skills create an artifact that effectively showcases their skills in a manner recognized and valued by employers?

The solution: Skills Quest

Skills Quest is a performance-based game prototype. Leveraging concepts of game mechanics found in cooperative play games such as Taboo and Pictionary, the goal of this prototype is to provide individuals with a playful, interactive virtual space to demonstrate their skills in a group-based setting and leave with evidence and validation of their skills from a group of peers and expert evaluators.

Let’s walk through how Skills Quest would work in practice.

 

The three standout features of this prototype are:

Engaging validation through gamification: This prototype applies game mechanics to create a valuable and engaging validation experience. By incorporating elements of play, the prototype intends to foster motivation and participation among participants.

Authentic practice through workplace scenarios and group dynamics: By working in groups and performing workplace-based tasks, individuals would actively demonstrate durable skills like oral communication, creative problem-solving, empathy, and collaboration. This approach would provide a more authentic assessment of an individual’s ability to apply these skills in real-world scenarios.

Evolving AI-assisted validation: This prototype will use a validation system that begins with human evaluation from peers and experts. This initial human evaluation is intended to eventually train an AI model to assist in the validation process. In the future, the AI will act as a supporting player, learning from human evaluators and gradually taking on a more prominent role as the model becomes more proficient. This is intended to facilitate a smooth and efficient validation experience. Our human expert evaluators will remain in the loop, monitoring the AI performance to ensure its accuracy and mitigate any potential performance decay over time.

Some early insights from our STARs design panel

The STARs design panel is a co-design group consisting of six STARs. Over four months, this panel shared their experiences and collaborated on designing new methods for skills validation. By directly involving STARs in the process, we aimed to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and co-create solutions that are centered around their experiences. Here are a few of their comments:

“What I really like about the artifact is it gives them insights into how to communicate the value of that skill. And I think it’s not just saying you have this skill, but really guiding them and how to communicate that via different outlets.” — Jeanne Long

“I think for a Forming STAR*, this could be really, really helpful. And it takes some of the anxiety out of the equation.” — Crystal Zilliox

 

*Opportunity@Work describes Forming STARs as STARs who have skills to see a small increase in wages, but not to transition to a higher wage group.

Next steps

We believe our work must be driven by the needs and goals of those most harmed by the current, broken system heavily reliant on degrees. We must go beyond simply understanding their needs to actively involving them in the design process through a collaborative approach called co-design.

In their book, Beyond Sticky Notes, KA McKercher defines co-design as “designing with, not for.

Co-design brings together the lived experiences and insights of those impacted by the system, alongside the professional knowledge of designers and researchers. This creates a space for everyone to learn from each other and develop solutions that are truly effective (make things better by design).”

As we envision the next iteration of this prototype, we will continue to co-design with STARs and employers.

Additionally, we have also partnered with a subject matter expert to support us with task development and AI integration.

A massive thank you to Faby Gagne, co-facilitator of the Skills Demonstration work group and all other members of the group, whose efforts have helped bring this concept to life!

  • Jeff Fiske, VP, and Dave McCool, President and CEO, Muzzy Lane Software

  • Jeffrey Carpenter, Executive Vice President for Strategy and Business Development, Vantage Point

  • Katie Severs, Partner Experience Lead, Adept ID

  • Heather Carle, Senior Product Manager, Territorium

  • Rob Groot, Managing Director, Learner Mobility and Experience, National Student Clearinghouse

  • Japman Bajaj, Executive Vice President, Vametric

  • Seth Corrigan, subject matter expert, Senior Research Scientist for R&D at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences.

 

We would love to hear from you!

Are you exploring skills validation? Do you have questions, comments, or ideas? Reach out to us at xcredit@eddesignlab.org.