How Institutions Can Turn Skills Into Career Outcomes

Laura Scruggs
April 24, 2024
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Table of Contents

5 takeaways from McGraw Hill issuing 1.1 million badges through partners like Penn State.

Earning a degree is a big deal. But there’s a disconnect between that degree and career opportunities.

Why? Because from that one line on a resume or LinkedIn profile, employers don’t really know what skills a candidate has and the level to which they’re proficient. While additional context may be outlined in a cover letter or during an interview, it’s not hard proof.

And a perceived lack of experience can hold students back from landing their dream jobs after graduation. That’s why many higher education institutions are embracing digital certificates and badges as key elements of career readiness.

Unlike one line on a resume, digital badges communicate the totality of someone’s skills and abilities. They serve as evidence of projects completed, assessments taken, and high-caliber teaching. They translate achievements into value that hiring managers understand.

However, to reap the full benefits of digital badges, educational institutions and training programs must be strategic in how they implement them. 

That’s why we sat down with McGraw Hill’s Bob Nisbet to learn how they’ve used learning pathways and issued over 1.1 million digital badges to guide students to competency through their online training and assessment platform, SIMnet.

He was joined by Penn State University Assistant Teaching Professor of Economics Frank Sorokach and current student Michael DeWolfe to talk about how to turn skill development and badges into career success. Below is a recap of our conversation.

5 Must-Haves for Converting Skills Into Career Opportunities

1. Answer ‘Why Am I Learning This?’

The point of higher education is to teach learners the knowledge and skills they’ll need to get a job and excel in their careers. But it can be challenging for institutions to convince students that’s what their curriculum does.

Bob explains, “Students who grew up with technology may not feel like they need a class to teach them PowerPoint or Excel. The key to sparking their interest and engagement is making the connection between the skills they're learning and the skills that business and industry demands — which is exactly what badging does.”

Badges act as a structured roadmap to career success, showing students exactly what skills they need to acquire and the path to get there. Using Accredible’s Job Market Insights, McGraw Hill shows students what organizations are looking to hire people with those exact skills, the typical job titles associated with these skills, and the salary ranges of those jobs on SIMnet digital badges.

Example of Job Market Insights information

And that’s been a huge motivator. Michael says, “I knew Excel was important for an accounting career, which is initially what drew me to badges. The courses have given me the right experience and allowed me to kind of future-proof my career path. Now, I’m an intern at a CPA firm and constantly in Excel, using what I learned. ”

Badges have even become talking points in his interviews for full-time roles.

“I have all my SIMnet badges on LinkedIn and my resume. So, in almost every interview, someone says, ‘Oh, I see these credentials on your resume. Can you talk a little bit more about that?’ I’m not just saying that I have Excel skills, I’m proving it through the badges,” says Michael.

2. Embrace Gamified Learning

To increase learner engagement, you have to make training interactive, particularly if you’re catering to a Millennial and Gen Z audience. Digital badging mimics how video games give users a boost, rewarding a student’s learning and empowering them to show off their accomplishments on social media.

Professor Sorokach’s students respond to the gamification aspect of digital badging so much that he doesn’t even mandate Microsoft Excel and Access badges as part of his course, and students still earn over two badges on average.

“In higher ed, we have a tendency to make everything a requirement. But if you put something in front of a student that gives them something to work toward that gives them a dopamine hit, they’re going to do it, explains Professor Sorokach. “Even though badges are completely voluntary, over 70% of my students earn more than one. And this is at a time when all teachers at all levels are saying, ‘I can’t get my students to do anything.’”

Using an inherently gamified mechanism like microcredentials and badges drives students toward course completion while giving them the skills they need to differentiate themselves in the job market.

3. Focus on Quality over Quantity

Some skills are more critical in a job market than others. Ideally, your badges become an HR manager’s go-to filter criteria on LinkedIn and Indeed. But to get and stay on their radar, your badges need to clearly show what they stand for.

Professor Sorokach says, “Employers want to know what a badge tells them — about the student’s competency, the quality of the education they received, and the skills they have proven they have.”

His advice? Incorporate badging into a comprehensive learning pathway that includes a project or assessment. Hiring managers will see what those projects or tests involve and what was considered a passing score.

Michael, who’s earned multiple SIMnet badges, agrees, “With something like LinkedIn Learning, you can kind of get by without diving deep into the material, especially if you already have some knowledge around a topic. But with SIMnet, it’s much harder to skip that stuff. You actually have to do an activity, or you don’t pass, and you don’t get a badge.”

Bob suggested personalizing your learning and corresponding badges with adaptive learning to protect the integrity of your badges. Give students a pretest, then guide them through targeted learning paths based on those results. 

“We’ve found this helps make learning more efficient and effective, tracking each learner's progress, says Bob.

4. Partner With Trusted Credentialing Providers

If you’re going to help students convey their skills, your badges have to mean something. Part of that meaning comes from carefully curating the content, assessments, and projects. The other part comes from partnering with trusted credentialing providers.

When searching for a credentialing provider, pay close attention to who they’ve worked with in the past and the kinds of skills their customers are credentialing. An experienced support and implementation team will help you launch on time and within scope. And if they’ve worked with other customers of similar size and function, they should be able to provide valuable tips and insights along the way.

Per Bob, “Accredible’s roster of partners — including the likes of Google, Slack, Snowflake, and many universities — has lent credibility to the SIMnet product and McGraw Hill’s content.”

Globally-recognized credentialing systems come with another benefit: their badges already have high engagement on social media, helping you get more eyeballs on your program and institution.

As Bob puts it, “Issuing over a million Accredible badges has absolutely increased SIMnet's visibility across social media, and it's helped us increase our market share in higher education.”

5. Develop Your Badging Strategy Now

The higher education landscape is rapidly changing. College is expensive, and it’s getting pricier by the year. At some point, Bob pointed out, the bubble will burst, and universities will have to offer alternate pathways of certification to stay relevant and drive additional revenue streams.

“The more prestigious universities and colleges are now approaching $100,000 a year for tuition, and that means colleges and universities aren’t just competing against each other. They’re competing against the edXs, the Courseras, and the Google IT certificates of the world.”

To get and stay ahead, modern institutions must emphasize that getting a job after school is not just about getting a diploma. It’s about adding stackable credentials that complement the degree — credentials that demonstrate a student’s competency. The faster universities adapt to credentialing, the better outcomes their students will have in the job market.

Badging is the Future of Job Search

Perhaps one of the most fascinating takeaways from this webinar was a preview of Professor Sorokach’s forthcoming research — data that shows how much experience plays a role in hiring decisions, not degrees.

“In an 850-respondent survey, experience was the number one thing employers were looking for. The more experience a person had, the better a prospect they were,” says Professor Sorokach.

According to him, this means a lot when it comes to badges:

“What that tells me is that getting a job offer is all about skills. So once we educate people about what badges represent and how they work, they’ll become the strongest signal of the specific skills a person has. That’s why I’m such an advocate.”

“Knowing Excel” could mean a candidate used Excel once at a prior job or knows their way around a pivot table and can write formulas in their sleep. Badges eliminate that confusion, showing employers exactly what a candidate knows and how well they know it.

For a deeper dive into how to structure a credentialing program that prepares students for post-grad success, catch the replay of this webinar below.

Or, if you’re ready to start incorporating digital certificates and badges into your curriculum, reach out to one of our credentialing experts to see the Accredible platform in action.

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