Why are Associations missing from the Digital Credentials conversation?

"The world’s education systems are failing our children by not preparing them for the workplace of the future."

This stark statement is the key finding of a new report by the World Economic Forum, Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The report outlines practical measures for aligning education and training with future job requirements. Other key recommendations in the report focus on the need for digital fluency and "incentivizing employees to commit to lifelong learning so they continue to develop their skills or even retrain for new roles", as noted in this analysis.

Associations Need to Lead Change with Education ProgramsInterestingly, since January 2017 there has been a proliferation of well-researched articles, opinion pieces, and whitepapers which echo the sentiment behind this stark indictment of the current education-to-employment system. It seems that there is a growing recognition that the degree qualifications on offer to today's students just cannot keep up with the rapid pace of change in the employment sector.

With new jobs being created all the time by the fast pace of technological change, the current system of post-secondary education (provided mainly by bureaucratic universities and education institutions with its emphasis on the 4-year degree) cannot adapt curricula fast enough to meet the demand for new skills that are relevant to the new jobs available. Many of these articles and papers are advocating a move to competency-based learning and the growing use of digital credentials as a way for job-seekers to demonstrate they have the skills required for new or changing employment opportunities.

Here are just a few quotes from some of the multitude of articles, which highlight the increasing importance of and real need for a change in the way we learn, recognize the achievement of skills and competencies, and share these achievements with employers.

"There is unprecedented demand for — and recognition of — non-degree credentials. Indeed, 41 million adults currently hold some form of non-degree credential, and there is growing acknowledgment that tomorrow’s students, dubbed “the new normal” by former U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, will demand a mix of non-traditional programs and partnerships providing learning opportunities across a work life that is likely to span 60 years or more."

('Leapfrogging in higher ed', Tech Crunch, Jan 27, 2017. Link)

"A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre showed that a mere 16% of Americans think that a four-year degree course prepares students very well for a high-paying job in the modern economy."

"A college degree at the start of a working career does not answer the need for the continuous acquisition of new skills, especially as career spans are lengthening."

"To remain competitive, and to give low- and high-skilled workers alike the best chance of success, economies need to offer training and career-focused education throughout people’s working lives."

('Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative', The Economist, Jan 12, 2017. Link)

"Opportunity abounds, but the rapid pace of change also creates complexity for employers, job seekers, educators, and training providers. The rise of online job boards and online and mobile applications has allowed job seekers to identify and apply for jobs faster, at a fraction of the cost historically required, while also allowing employers to reach more prospective applicants. Digital transcripts, resumes, ePortfolios, assessments, and other artifacts of learning allow individuals to present more, richer information during the application process than ever before."

(Shift Happens, Innovate + Educate, December 2016. Link)


Associations are Missing From The Conversation

Many of these articles on the need for change in continuing education and the importance of alternative and digital credentials seem to overlook the role that associations already play in providing professional development, certification, continuing education, and credentialing to their respective professional or trade industries. Several of the articles give details of government-sponsored initiatives, or collaborations between employers and online learning providers such as Udemy, General Assembly, and others, to create competency-based programs that will better equip job-seekers with the new skills required by employers.


Why are associations missing from the conversation, and, more importantly, the solution to the education-to-employment skills gap?

The recently published "Shift Happens" whitepaper by non-profit organization Innovate + Educate provides an in-depth overview of how technology is being applied across the education, training and hiring landscape. However, even in this paper, there is only one explicit mention of associations, when it is stated that: "Research organizations, institutions, policy advocates, and associations investigate, shape, and distribute transformative ideas and policies." Unfortunately, this mention is not elaborated or developed to show the many practical ways in which associations do provide "transformative" education, certification, or credentialing programs to facilitate their members' professional development.

The report notes that while the concepts of competency-based and digital credentials are now widely accepted, the lack of industry-recognized credentials that are validated remains a challenge. Though "institutions of higher education, workforce training centers, and private organizations increasingly offer shorter, more targeted programs that result in non-degree certifications, licenses, or certificates", the paper notes two key issues that could affect the normalization of competency-based programs and digital credentials.

  1.  "Taking advantage of non-traditional pathways requires an understanding of what competencies are required within a particular field".
  2. "What will it take for employers to trust and adopt these credentials? What will it take to rely on industry-recognized assessments?"

Having worked with many associations over the years, we know that associations should be a part of this conversation as they are uniquely positioned to resolve both of these issues. As we have noted before, when discussing the need for associations to lead the change required to close the skills gap between education and employment, associations are perfectly poised to uncover, evaluate and respond to the educational needs of both employers and professionals in their respective industries.

How to Create a Digital Badge Strategy Design - WBT SystemsAwareness of current issues affecting their industry, advocacy for their members and their professions, and their trusted relationships with employers gives associations an authoritative edge over academic institutions, when it comes to educating prospective employees. Associations can build timely professional development programs that address the specific competencies required by employers, in a much faster time frame than it takes to restructure a broader academic curriculum. Because association education programs are based on industry standards, the learning outcomes are consistent and it is easy for employers to recognize the validity of skills and competencies achieved.

How can associations take their rightful place in this conversation? Association leaders and learning professionals must know how to translate the promise of digital credentials into practical strategies that engage members and potential members with continuing education and certification programs in relevant and meaningful ways.


How Associations Can Lead the Way

Join Talented Learning CEO and Lead Analyst, John Leh, and WBT Systems CTO, Linda Bowers for a free webinar on Friday, March 31, 2017 at 1pm ET, as they explore how to use digital credentials to close the skills gap.


Using Digital Credentials to Close the Skills Gap: Webinar

You’ll learn:

· How to distinguish between traditional credentials, digital badges and open badges
· Why open badges are rapidly gaining momentum in education
· How associations can benefit from offering digital badges
· Key elements of a viable badge-based learning strategy
· What kind of technology infrastructure is needed to support open badges
· How some associations are already succeeding with digital badge programs

Missed this webinar? Don't worry, you can access the recording for free at the link in recommended stories below.

continuing education
Continuing Professional Development
Digital Badges
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