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The Time for Competency-Based Credentialing Systems Is Now

May 31, 2018

At a Glance

The nation needs to engage in a conversation on moving to a competency-based credentialing system. Such a system would create standards for clear, cross-industry credentials that recognize an individual’s competencies.

Maria Flynn President & CEO 

Earlier this week, the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, CLASP, and several other national organizations released a timely call for a national conversation on moving to a competency-based credentialing system. Such a system would create standards for clear, cross-industry credentials that recognize an individual’s competencies. We strongly agree that rationalizing this system should be a top priority if our economy is to prosper and give everyone in this country an opportunity to succeed.

In its work with employers, workforce organizations, K-12, postsecondary education, and state and federal governments, Jobs for the Future has seen many times the unfortunate impact that the nation’s chaotic and opaque credentialing systems can have on underprepared young people and adults who are already struggling in our tumultuous economy.

The lack of strong career guidance systems and easily accessible information on which credentials have strong value in today’s labor market make it even more difficult for students and workers to navigate this maze. Meanwhile, employers are often frustrated that the education and training system does not yield workers that have the skills and competencies they need.

Validating and credentialing the many ways that people acquire competencies will require unprecedented levels of collaboration across education, workforce, and employers. We believe that a robust national strategy that builds off of state and local innovation and is aimed at bringing coherence across these siloed education and workforce systems is sorely needed.

Critical to the success of the next generation of credentialing systems will be finding the balance between meeting the needs of employers and making education and training pathways accessible to underprepared workers. Fortunately, there are good examples of how to achieve both:

  • Most workers build their skills on the job, so credentialing systems need to be designed to capture the learning at work, ultimately helping entry-level workers advance. In Jobs to Manufacturing Careers, a national effort of colleges and employer partnerships, two Philadelphia-based behavioral health providers developed a competency-based program to train frontline workers in psychiatric care. Workers earned college certificates and credits applicable toward Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees. Their employers reported marked improvements in patient documentation that led to increased reimbursements to the hospital, and workers who completed the program received 5 to 15% wage increases.
  • Forging partnerships with employers in designing credentialing systems can have big payoffs. JFF recently partnered with 11 Fortune 500 corporations to design a pilot for building a credentialing system from these companies’ incumbent worker training programs and was delivered through community colleges at very low costs to students. This type of employer-driven, market-based approach has the potential to drive much stronger alignment and standardization in the credentialing field.
  • Robust, technology-enabled career guidance systems can assist underprepared young people and adults in pursuing credentials with high labor-market value. Credentials That Work, a national effort to aggregate and analyze enormous amounts of real-time and traditional labor market information to identify the technical and academic competencies, skills, and credentials sought by employers is being used to help develop such systems. And by linking this rich information to the programs offered by postsecondary institutions, it’s driving stronger linkages between the supply and demand sides of the workforce training system.

This is the right conversation at the right time. But to be successful, all of the key stakeholders—employers, educators and workforce professionals at the national, state, and local levels—need to be engaged in the development and adoption of cutting-edge solutions. We look forward to advancing this critical national dialogue.

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