Reinventing Skill Recognition

Step One to Building the Future of Work

The value of the college degree, not the education it implies, has created an ecosystem where headlines like the 2019 College Admissions Scandal should come as no surprise.

Reinventing how we communicate skill is the solution to creating a world where a piece of paper does not determine an individual’s economic future.

To explain why, let’s explore a simple question: How do you know what someone else is capable of?

How Recognition Works

In credentialing, such knowledge is referred to as “recognition”. There are at least three answers:

You directly observe the individual apply the skills in question.

Examples: apprenticeships, assessments, internships, co-working, logic problems, interviews, etc.

You personally evaluate examples of this individual’s work and determine the level of skill required to complete them.

Examples: portfolios, performance videos, assessments, case studies, product samples, etc.

A 3rd party verifies this person can perform the necessary skills and recommends them.

Examples: college degrees, referrals, LinkedIn recommendations, community membership, etc.

The first two solutions have one major constraint: you. Your time and expertise are limited. In hiring, unless you are capable of personally assessing every candidates’ ability, recommendations will be required.

The value of a recommendation is contingent on the level of trust you have in the recommender and their ability to accurately measure the skills in question.

Degrees as Default

Today, college degrees dominate the recognition landscape. Since the 1940’s, society’s reliance on the degree as a trusted recommendation has expanded to encompass a broad range of skillsets and domains.

The result of this trend is a hiring system that emphasizes how/where someone obtains their skills over the skills themselves. In recent decades, skyrocketing tuition costs have amplified the problem by making the degree less accessible.

The price change in consumer goods since 1997. College tuition fees and Education are well above other categories.
Our World in Data (2017)

These trends have stifled much of the impact technology should have had on education. For example, while the internet disrupted the ways we access information, it did little to disrupt how we access meaningful recognition (see MOOCs).

To be clear, the problem is not colleges. The problem is overreliance on the college degree. Framing the challenge this way is essential. There are no villains. Colleges have and always will benefit society in important ways.

The Future of Recognition

Today, there is a seemingly endless flow of aspiring college alternatives: bootcamps, apprenticeships, certificate programs, etc. It is no coincidence that such alternatives are most successful in industries with high demand and skillsets that are easily demonstrated.

Too many of these alternatives treat recognition as an afterthought. Most follow what I term the the Field of Dreams approach to credentialing: “If you credential it, they will care.”

The future of recognition, however, can be much more than credentials. Personal learning records, employer-sponsored training, apprenticeships, and other alternatives enable recognition without credentials. While there are many directions the future can go, one thing is certain:

Successful alternatives facilitate both learning and recognition. Students don’t just need learning. They need learning to count.

The simple framework I have outlined is intended to prompt better discussions about how we embed recognition within such opportunities.

Additional questions I hope to discuss include:

  • How does the nature of a skill impact the ways it can be communicated?
  • How should the mode of recognition vary by audience? Industry?
  • Who is responsible for facilitating recognition? To what extent?
  • How should the scope of an opportunity (contract worker, entry-level hire, CEO, etc.) impact the ways we assess ability?
  • How do we create trusted recommendations?
  • How granular should our methods of recognition be?
  • What new problems does the adoption of alternatives lead to?

Skills, not how we obtain them, should unlock access to opportunity. Reinventing skill recognition is the first step to making that future a reality.

Please comment below or connect via Linkedin to continue the conversation!

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