Employee Training

5 Ways to Develop Credentials That Employers and Learners Value

Maise Hunns
July 3, 2024
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Table of Contents

Research from JFF Labs shows that 65% of job seekers say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to use digital credentials on their next job application. 

At least 20 states have committed to removing degree requirements from their internal positions.

Nearly every state in the U.S. has some form of credentialing initiative, rebranding from college readiness to career readiness.

And over 73% of employers reported hires with digital credentials helped their organization fill an existing skill gap and improve the quality of their workforce.

Yet only 19% of job seekers have ever been asked by an employer for a digital credential during the job application process.

Which begs the question: What can credentialing organizations do to bridge the gap?

We sat down with Holly Garner, VP of New Channels and Head of Workforce at Junior Achievement USA, David Leaser, VP at MyInnerGenius and co-founder of Digital Badge Academy, and Sharon Leu, Executive in Residence at JFF Labs, to better understand how organizations can design credentials that meet earner and employer needs — now and in the future.

1. Put extra thought into naming your credential

As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.” In credentialing, this is especially true. Though unwarranted, some employers consider alternative credentials an “alternative” education. “As if a degree is the ‘right way’ to do it,” Sharon says.

Using specific language to describe your credentials — i.e., tying them to proof of valuable skills or experience — can help turn a less favorable association into a positive one.

“It becomes ‘Oh, this person knows how to do this,’ and not ‘Oh, this person missed out on a Bachelor’s degree.’” Your naming convention should change the narrative for employers, signaling that they’re tapping into a highly skilled potential talent pool.

2. Make sure your credentials have universal meaning

These days, many candidates are using AI to help them get a leg up in the hiring process, making it hard for employers to pick out the diamonds in the rough. But that’s where your credentials can really shine.

“Anybody looking at the badge should be able to understand what it took to earn it, what kind of assessment the person took, what kind of rubrics were used, and all that should be verifiable,” David explains.

Some tips for lending credibility to your credentials include:

  • External landing pages. When he worked at IBM, David and his team created a landing page for every badge (there were thousands). It took time and effort, but the ROI from maintaining that transparency was huge — learners and employers were more confident that the credentials had legs. Generative AI could be an excellent way to speed up this activity. “Have it give you a list of all the skills in your courses and use that as your starting point for your copy.”
  • Add critical metadata to your credentials. Having rich metadata behind your credential allows employers to dive deeper into what the learner has learned and how they’ve demonstrated their competency. Platforms like Accredible dynamically populate program details, gained skills, earning criteria, relevant learner evidence, and more on a per-credential and -email basis.
  • Open standards. Sharon pointed out that using open standards, such as the W3C verifiable credentials data model, shows that you’re not just issuing any old badge — there’s a level of standard you’re adhering to that feeds into the currency of your credential.
  • Endorsements. David suggested, “If you’re aligned to a certain type of, say, cybersecurity standard for your training, advertise it. Publish it within the badge itself.”
  • Immediate verification. Top credentialing providers like Accredible ensure that credentials are fraud-proof. Holly emphasizes, “You want learners to be able to say, ‘This is the credential I have. It's not modifiable. I can't change the metadata on the back end.’” Make your credential vettable.

3. Optimize for portability

Historically, records sat in a registrar’s office or learning management system, and learners had to jump through hoops to get copies. But with the fast pace of the job market, there’s no time to wait. Learners need to be able to take their credentials wherever they go to advance their careers. And they’ve expressed that need directly.

Sharon notes, “75% of job seekers we surveyed said a digital wallet would be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ helpful with their job search, and they wanted a wallet where they could put their qualifications, their previous experience, their skills, and other things that they think would match them best with their jobs.”

According to JFF Labs research, almost half of jobseekers thought that the most beneficial reason for using a digital wallet was the ability to store all their credentials in one place. 58% would use that digital wallet to share credentials — even if their employer didn’t mandate it.

To make her students’ skills instantly visible and verifiable, Holly and her team at JA use Accredible in combination with SmartResume to embed digital credentials into resumes that can be certified via the blockchain.

“A badge in a wallet that you can't put front and center with your candidacy for a position is not that useful. Our students must have at least one of our verifiable credentials or an industry credential showing prominently in their digital resumes.”

Enabling learners to take their credentials with them throughout their careers isn’t just a benefit to them — it can be an organic marketing strategy for you. Each time a learner posts their credential on social media, your branding gets a boost, making other potential learners aware of your program and encouraging them to explore your coursework.

4. Understand learner (and employer) behavior through your data

The needs of learners and employers are constantly changing, and learning programs must be able to keep up. An ideal way to get a pulse on what’s happening in the job market? Analyzing credential data.

On the backend of your badging software, you should be able to:

  • Track learner skills inventory and progression
  • Monitor learning pathway completions
  • Pinpoint upskilling opportunities
  • Identify common dropoff points

Gaining visibility into every aspect of your program means you’ll always have the right insights to refine your learning strategies and deliver new digital credentials as your training portfolio expands.

You can even use AI-driven tools to help you pinpoint those emerging patterns and compare the data you’re seeing with other data sources that monitor the labor market. “For some of the roles where it is harder for us to predict the future, we can use our robot friends to help,” Sharon points out. 

“We can ask AI engines, ‘Hey, what are the characteristics of someone who excels in customer service? What have you observed about the skills they’ve earned?’ helping us think about what's a valuable skill and what's not.”

5. Help learners build a “constellation of skills”

Learners are hungry for a roadmap that will show them exactly what skills and knowledge they need to advance their careers. A well-thought-out credentialing strategy can be their built-in guide. As soon as they earn their first credential, you can recommend more to keep them moving in the direction they want to go.

“I think of skills earning like a paint-by-numbers board. You follow the instructions, slowly filling in the blanks, and, eventually, you end up with a beautiful piece of art,” Holly says.

“If we can break down the skills a learner needs into an easily-followable taxonomy, they can simply follow our lead, building their own constellation of invaluable skills and experiences specific to the direction they want to go.”

By the time they’ve completed a pathway, they’ll be able to prove they’re qualified for a job or a promotion — with a whole set of credentials to back them up. This approach not only associates your organization with learner success but also promotes your content. If you can continually serve up new, highly relevant courses right when learners need them, you’ll have a never-ending stream of learners.

Bonus #6: Collaborate With a Trusted Partner

Building a credentialing program that stands the test of time can feel like you’re playing a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as you make adjustments based on one learner or employer trend, a new one pops up that seems even more challenging to accommodate.

But riding those waves feels much less overwhelming when you’re working with a partner that stays ahead of the curve.

Accredible’s Professional Services team incorporates what they’ve learned in their past lives as educators, what they’ve learned from Accredible customers, and what they’re continuing to learn from the dynamic labor market and credentialing world into their approach, helping customers adapt their credentialing strategy over time.

Want a sneak peek into our process? Contact one of our team members to see how Accredible’s platform can help you adapt your credentials to employer and learner needs.

Or catch the replay of our webinar to glean more insights from David, Holly, and Sharon:

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