The Lab’s Founder & President, Kathleen deLaski, spent her summer co-chairing a Connecting Credentials working group which has just released its Aligning Supply & Demand Signals Report. Below are her reflections on her experience and the team’s recommendations.
When we visit campuses to do a design exercise we call “a world without resumes,” I am always struck by how it catches most students off guard. They are mostly unaware of the changing hiring world as are the administrators who support them. The surprise is understandable. Families are paying a lot of money for the experts to prepare them for the American Dream, for which the summative display of dream eligibility is still the analog one pager. We’ve told them to include experiences, like sports, club, jobs, study abroad. Most everything but the GPA is just a list of self-reported activities, these days also sporting links to portfolios or personal websites. As an employer, I find the rows of community projects and sports teams, or even GPA, less useful than, say, a Black Belt or Eagle Scout. Those are what badging experts are starting to call ” verified learning evidence.” That’s not what most universities are selling, yet. (Although Lumina Foundation’s pilots with “extended transcripts” and Comprehensive Student Records are underway.)
Increasingly, employers are not looking at resumes until a final round. They use “applicant tracking systems” and a keyword search function to winnow down hundreds or thousands of resumes that come in for an entry-level professional role to, maybe, 10. But this filtering is where they realize, as a hiring manager from Goldman Sachs told me, that the resume is a “blunt instrument.” “Are the right people getting through the filter?” And as we travel around the country, some hiring managers are telling us they are ready for the next thing, particularly if, to quote one, “it can match us to candidates with hard and soft workforce skills and help us prioritize among them.” That’s the holy grail of the future of talent.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
And that’s why I said yes to the unfunded summer of fun with my co-chair, Matt Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment, and 25 other experts, entrepreneurs, policymakers who were bold or naïve enough to think we can contribute to this big, hairy problem: skills-based hiring–aligning what learners know (or need to know) with what employers are looking for. The project comes under the umbrella group Connecting Credentials, created by the Lumina Foundation to foster the promise of digital credentials, and supported by 120 national organizations. Five workgroups were launched in May and we’re reporting our now on trends and recommendations. Our topic was real “rubber meets the road” territory: Aligning Supply and Demand.
How do we make the promise of digital credentials real for employers? More importantly, why? Breaking down the currency of a college degree or a graduate degree to smaller currencies makes higher education much more accessible and portable. We expect future workers to pay for a whole degree when they might only need part of it to test a career. That expectation is causing more people to opt out, or they opt for the lower cost end of the education menu, e.g. community college, and theirs odds for reaching a middle class life are seriously diminished. If we can prove that candidates can get hired with part of a degree, or a verified group of specific competencies, that’s also the holy grail. It’s happening in some technical fields already.
“Breaking down the currency of a college degree or a graduate degree to smaller currencies makes higher education much more accessible and portable.”
So, what did we see on our spirited summer journey? (Disclaimer: this blog is my diary, others from the workgroup no doubt see it through different lenses.)
On the supply side of the talent equation, there is a lot of activity: Many universities get that they need to reinvent the “career readiness” value proposition as consumers become more fixated on this as the point of college. Community colleges have been focused on workforce outcomes for years, and it is where we see much of the innovation. Groups promoting badges suggest that 1 in 5 universities is testing some form of digital badging, although not necessarily for credit.
On the demand side, employers, not so much activity: IBM is leading on using competency-based badging to upskill workers for fast changing or “liquid skills,” as I wrote in a recent blog. Our workgroup report describes efforts by the Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Workforce Development Council, the National Network of Businesses and Burning Glass to help their employers speak with one voice on the competencies that they want. But the work so far is anecdotal and has yet to yield many competency maps and mastery requirements to serve as roadmaps for learning institutions beyond individual companies.
Probably our group’s biggest ah-ha is that employers need to lead the way on this work, they are the customers in this equation, but we’ve started the translation party without them because they were late. They represent the more fractured, go-it-alone partner, not prone to show up at convenings to wrestle with ecosystem aspirations. We recommend next steps to map the incentives of employers and pilots with them to determine how the power of skills-based hiring can mitigate their increasing “scarcity” issues on talent and the costs of turnover and retention. They told us that would get more of them to the table to consider the equity opportunities.
Ways to Design for Equity
We list several “design principles” from which we distill recommendations. They are largely aimed at moving from the stage where we are piloting on either the supply or demand side to now do pilots that test the whole equation: Can digital credentials help people to be hired in more equitable and efficient ways than in our current systems?
For a full view, the report is here. But let’s end the blog with three of my personal favorite recommendations and perhaps the most actionable ones to address the equity issues.
#1 HotHiring Keywords Industrial Average
Remember the keyword searches I mentioned that students and colleges don’t know about? What if we could publish them, every day. So learners could see what’s trending. “Dow Industrial Average for Hiring Keywords” total transparency for all.
Would employers be willing to feed into this anonymously to help learners see the trends? The Labor Department’s ONET provides a start. We identified that the task for students who have less of a social network is getting through the filter. Just like when marketing firms tell us to “optimize our search terms” (SEO, or search engine optimization) if we want our websites to appear higher up the Google search list. However, hot debate ensued at more than one of the workgroup’s sessions as the techies among us suggested we don’t need to worry about helping learners translate their skills into employer-friendly keywords, because artificial intelligence will do the translation for them within the next decade. In the meantime, learners still need to know what employers want them to learn. Let’s try publishing them. I think of the adage “What gets measured, gets done.”
#2 How to Demonstrate Mastery of 21st Century skills?
Funders should invest in the development of consistent ways of assessing 21st century skills, or power skills or whatever you want to call the universal skills that all of us need to function in a fast changing world, e.g. the ability to learn on a dime, to show empathy, to problem solve, to collaborate and communicate. It’s pretty amazing that there are no commonly accepted employer-driven assessments (that are not behind firewalls.) The Lab has been working on 21st century skill badges for almost four years, and we have not found open-source employer endorsed assessments. But these skills can be taught and measured. But employers need to join the fun in an open source way.
#3 Let’s push the next-gen resume as a translation tool between employers and learners, so that they can speak the same language.
We’ve had employers and students be very responsive to the concept of the “T-Profile” which helps employers translate job descriptions into the hard and soft skills and sub skills they need and helps learners map their strengths and evidence to the T-profile that interests them. In one design session with 15 Michigan employers, organized by the Michigan Colleges Alliance, the vast majority felt it would be more useful than a resume. That helps us imagine the future resume as an interactive dashboard for the student to be managing her learning evidence. The National Institute of Metalworking Skills has already piloted a resume generator to get our creative juices flowing.
If you want to pursue any of these ideas or others in the report, contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org