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Digital Badges and the Future of Work

SynED Explores How Microcredentials can Benefit Students, Job Seekers, and Employers

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., June 17, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Thanks to services like ZipRecruiter and Indeed, the job search process is harnessing the power of AI to screen candidates and match them with available jobs. To keep pace with the change, resumes are becoming skills-based and moving away from employment chronology.

No matter how detailed a resume is, though, it's still difficult to tell what exactly a candidate did to earn those skills. Everyone writes their resume a different way, and resume padding is not likely to go away, no matter how much the industry changes.

Digital badges provide an opportunity for employees to compile metadata on specific skills they've acquired, and for employers to take a deeper dive into their candidate pools. Badges are even more successful when they align with industry standards, as one recent effort in the cybersecurity field shows.

Digital Badge Basics

Digital badges, or microcredentials, are a graphical representation of a person's abilities and competencies, combined with a verifiable description of the knowledge and activities it took to earn it. They are highly visual and optimized for sharing on social media channels and professional networks.

Credly is a leading provider of digital badges and helps companies and other organizations create credentials for internal and external use. Brenda Perea, Credly's Director of Education and Workforce Strategies said badges work best when organizations have a specific goal in mind while creating them — such as mapping to industry standards.

"When an employer clicks a badge in a profile, they can immediately see all of the activities that went into earning that skill," Perea said.

Lee Yarborough is the leader of the California Digital Badge Initiative at SynED, a California-based non-profit that helps colleges and universities around the world use technology and experiential learning to meet their goals and serve their students. Before her current role, she spent 15 years as a career counselor in California and saw firsthand the deficiencies with how skills are currently captured.

Yarborough often thinks about digital badges as an extension of a resume or transcript. A transcript shows what courses a student took and how well they performed in those classes, but it does not say anything about what skills they learned in those classes. The same is true of a resume — it shows what jobs a person held, but nothing about their specific skills or how they acquired them.

In either case, digital badges provide that much-needed context for the employer to determine which specific skills a candidate has.

"It's a tool for people to communicate what they did in detail," Yarborough said. "An employer can click on a badge and, in an instant, it tells a better story than a or transcript ever could."

Mapping to Industry Standards

Technical fields are often governed by industry standards, such as the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. These protocols are designed to ensure that employees across all sectors and industries have the skills necessary to perform specific tasks and functions that are common across the discipline.

Digital badges provide an opportunity for employers to see that a candidate meets those standards. A resume can say it in theory, but a badge allows the opportunity to embed examples and related work projects that are accessible in one click.

"It's great if someone displays a badge on LinkedIn, but the metadata in the badge makes it so much more meaningful," Yarborough said.

CompTIA, a leading provider of IT and cybersecurity certifications, created badges that map to those certifications and the larger NICE framework. Each badge contains an overview of the certification, a listing of the skills covered as part of the certification, and a listing of careers people with the certification are eligible to pursue.

Badges were also used to connect cyber skills to activities completed as part of the California Mayors Cyber Cup, a statewide cybersecurity competition for high school students. Members of the top three teams from each of the 12 competitions received a digital badge that demonstrated their understanding of key cybersecurity concepts, including cyber ethics, cyber governance, threat intelligence, and data loss prevention.

"Badges provided a vehicle for competitors to display their accomplishments – and encourages their aspiration to achieve more," Yarborough said.

Benefit to Employers

Sentek Global, an IT and cybersecurity firm based in San Diego, is already starting to see the benefits that digital credentials can bring to the hiring process. The company is growing quickly and needs to review candidates in the most efficient way possible.

"Because the majority of the roles we fill at Sentek Global are technical, reviewing and verifying the skills and credentials of our candidates is time-intensive," said Joey Tompkins, a talent acquisition specialist at Sentek Global. "From a hiring standpoint, holding digital badges for desired skills and certifications will absolutely help a candidate stand out." 

Badges also reinforce organizational credibility by showing that they value continuing education and lifelong learning. A badge displayed on a social profile creates a positive organizational reputation, which can be helpful in attracting future clients and future customers.

"Digital credentials are a powerful way to engage employees in the workplace and reward their achievements with verifiable and shareable digital badges," Perea said.

Conference organizers are also embracing badges as a way for attendees to denote specific skills learned from sessions and workshops. A badge stays with an attendee long after the conference ends and provides verification to a company that its professional development funds were well-spent, Yarborough said.

What Does the Future Hold?

Digital badges are in their infancy, but the future is bright as organizations and individuals continue to embrace them and see the value they can bring.

Russ Novak, business unit director of mission assurance and advanced solutions at Sentek Global, said he expects to see candidates presenting digital badges from CompTIA and the Program Management Institute in the near future.

"Now is the time for both industry veterans and new or aspiring professionals to start thinking strategically about the certifications and skills they'll need to obtain, as well as the accompanying digital badges: those badges will paint a vivid picture of their experience," Novak said.

As Generation Z graduate college and enters the workforce, the focus on personal branding will become greater than ever. Credly predicts that the generation raised on video tutorials and on-demand learning will embrace badges as a way to demonstrate skills that transcend specific job or industry.

Yarborough also sees the potential for colleges and universities to offer badges that show employers what skills students learn in classes.

Santa Barbara City College successfully implemented badges as part of its Career Strategist Certificate. The certificate is designed to help students understand their strengths and use that information to find meaningful and rewarding jobs.

The badge denotes that students have completed activities in personalized career planning, strategic job searching, and using LinkedIn for Business.

For more information on SynED and the Digital Badge Initiative, visit https://syned.org/digital-badge-initiative/

About SynED

SynED is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting educational excellence by providing higher education professional services to facilitate the development of new models of curriculum, industry alliance, service, and delivery.

About Credly

Credly empowers organizations to officially recognize individuals for demonstrated competencies and skills through the use of digital credentials. The company is leading the digital credential movement, making talent more visible and opportunity more accessible.

About Sentek Global

Sentek Global has a cadre of cybersecurity experts that are highly trained and highly efficient. Cybersecurity services include: Information Security Audits, Cybersecurity Inspections and Command Cyber Readiness Inspections, Certification and Accreditation (DIACAP and RMF), Validator Support Services, Penetration Testing, Vulnerability Assessments, Network Design and Architecture, Computer Network Defense, Security Operation Center Management.

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