How ready are college graduates for the real world of work? It depends on who you ask. According to one report, 96% of university leaders believe they’re doing a good job preparing young people for the workforce—but nearly 80% of employers beg to differ.
The good news is, there may be a way to bring these numbers closer together: digital credentials.
“Digital credentials give all students vocabulary, usability and utility that allows them not only to say, ‘Hey, look at my portfolio of digital credentials,’ but also insights into the competencies and the skills that they have,” says Brian LaDuca, Executive Director of IACT, University of Dayton. “By looking at digital credentials, employers can see the concrete steps students have taken to earn skills and close any gaps.”
That’s one reason why digital credentials are on the rise—and not just for young people entering the workforce. In fact, Danny King, CEO and Co-Founder at Accredible, believes that today, digital credentials have changed from a nice-to-have to a necessity for both employers and employees. “Digital credentialing can now be an invaluable tool for the corporate world and educational system to reskill, upskill, and facilitate career change—it’s a crucial tool for success.”
Traditionally, credentials have existed in the form of a paper certificate or transcript. All of that is falling by the wayside as our culture continues to digitize. “As society in general slowly continues to move from paper to digital, credentialing is no different,” says Danny King, CEO and Co-Founder at Accredible. “Paper credentials are now flawed and hard to verify, leading to headaches for businesses and employees alike.”
LaDuca echoes this perspective: “Hiring leaders are finding some of these more common credentials lack the accessibility and verification required in the digital age,” he says. “Companies need to ensure students know what they say they know.”
That’s why LaDuca argues that digital credentials are aiming to be the skills currency of today’s employer environment. “They’re a modern element of learning and development with the in-depth verifications that a paper certification cannot provide,” he says. Replete with data and accessible in multiple contexts, digital credentials offer a shareable, verifiable way to tell the story of an individual's competencies—especially to hiring managers.
Universities and employers are clearly split on how prepared college graduates are for the workplace. Part of the reason, LaDuca believes, is simply the lack of a shared vocabulary. “Our students had powerful experiences in the classroom, but when they got into an interview or even a workforce situation, they had some difficulty in translating their skillsets and what they had learned into workplace language,” he says. “We have incorporated tools like Credly to help fill the communication gap between students and employers.”
At the University of Dayton, Credly is helping students and employers to start speaking a common language when it comes to workforce-ready skills and knowledge. Digital credentials can also greatly benefit universities by shedding light on the sub-competencies students are seeking. “This data can help universities reevaluate and restructure programs to meet the needs of their students and employers,” LaDuca says.
Of course, digital credentials are not just for college graduates just launching their careers. They’re also an integral part of verifying that the existing workforce has the right skills. “The rapid integration of technology and automation in the workplace has created a massive need for reskilling and certification programs,” says King. “Digital credentials provide businesses and workers with the tools necessary to create tailored and comprehensive programs that accomplish this.”
And the benefits are mutual. “For employers, the benefits of implementing credentialing programs are immense, from communicating what options are available, driving workplace productivity to talent retention and beyond,” says King. “On the other hand, employees are now provided with personalized and unique credentials to help prove their professional experience and competencies and accelerate their career development.”
In the new learning and development-driven workplace, digital credentials are a natural fit. “Workers’ expectations for their employers are higher than ever,” asserts King. “Employees expect, and oftentimes demand, to be well-trained and prepared to do their jobs effectively. With these increased needs, the onus is on businesses to meet worker expectations and provide adequate training and accessibility to continuous learning.
“The calculus for businesses is simple—if they don’t offer those things, it’s highly possible that other organizations will, and it threatens their ability to retain and hire qualified talent.”
Today, students can choose many different routes within the vast education and training ecosystem: two-year degrees, four-year degrees, graduate degrees, stackable certificates, industry certifications and licensures, and microcredentials, to name a few. And now, digital credentials can create a complete picture of their education, experience and employment skillsets.
While digital credentials are becoming increasingly mainstream, LaDuca believes there is plenty of room for improvement. “We would love to see a world where rather than pitting digital credentials against other credentials, we can showcase how those credentials are synergistic and integrated to provide students with the best possible educational journey and set them up for success in the workforce.”
King agrees that a hybrid between digital credentialing and other training programs is the ideal. “Educational institutions should not be looking at digital credentials as a threat,” he says. “Instead, digital credentialing can help augment traditional education models by providing students with more options to further their education.”
Like everything else in the workplace, digital credentials are evolving to keep pace with real-time needs. Embracing the shared language and easy verifiability of digital credentials creates common ground between companies and contributors—and that’s a win for everyone.