August 24, 2021

The Future of Digital Credentialing: Innovation at the intersection of Education, Business and Technology

Video Description

The widespread adoption of digital credentials for achievement recognition, delivery and verification will eliminate credentialing fraud and revolutionize the way we source, manage and develop human capital. In this talk Accredible CEO and Founder Danny King outlines what is next in the fast-changing digital credentialing landscape.

Video Transcript

Danny King: (00:05)

Hi, everyone. I'll be talking about the future of credentials today. We'll be covering how I believe our education and careers will evolve over the years to come and what innovations we're seeing around digital credentials. So before we begin, who am I and where did I get my beliefs about credentials? Well, I'm the co-founder and CEO of Accredible. We are the credentialing backbone infrastructure for 1400 of the world's largest and most respected organizations across higher education, professional associations, national credentialing bodies, and businesses. Harvard MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, IEEE, Google, GMAC, and many others use us to issue secure digital credentials. Those might be digital awards, diplomas, licenses, badges, or many other types of credentials. Here's an example of what we do for them. On the left here, you can see a digital certificate, which the CFP board issues to those who earn the certified financial planner certification in the US. This is one of the few types of the digital certificates that we issue alongside digital badges, blockchain credentials, and digital membership cards.

(01:09) On the right here, we have an example of a certified directory of professionals that we host for Google. This allows people who earned the Google Cloud platform credential to be featured on a directory found by employers and verified quickly. So how did we get thinking about digital credentials or credentials in the first place? Why did I start a digital credentialing company? Well it's a personal story. That's me with my co-founder and CTO. Alan Heppenstall, he's the guy on the left there. We met at Durham University in the UK where we both studied computer science. I really wanted to go to this school, but there was a problem. It's one of the best schools for computer science in the UK. The entry requirements are very high to get in. You need an A in math to get in. But I got a D. In the UK it's a very rigid government controlled application process to get into a university.

(01:58) It's really all about the grades, but I just had my heart set on this school. It was such a beautiful place. It's one of the best schools for computer science in the world. There was just no way I could accept not going to this school. And I got lucky. I found the head of admissions and I pleaded with him just to meet with me. I eventually convinced him to take a shot on me. I explained how I'd been tinkering with computers since I was a baby, how hard I worked. It turns out that he was retiring that year. And I guess he was feeling a little rebellious. He found a way to fudge the system and let me in. It was a dream come true. And do you know what happened next? I really found my calling when it came to university, my D in math predicted I would be a bad computer scientist, but I actually ended up graduating top of my class.

(02:43) I even beat the grades for the entire previous decade. That was a good feeling. So what happened here? Why was the prediction about me so inaccurate? The problem was that we were using a far too low resolution image of who I was and what I was capable of. That D in math was not a good predictor of what I could do. I was admittedly absolutely terrible at maths on average, but it turns out that I was pretty good at the part of math that was important for computer science. And those were the parts that mattered. The assessment of my potential was so low resolution that it failed. So I was lucky. I was lucky that someone saw beyond the overly basic assessment parameters and admitted me to Durham. But what about all those other people that saw their credential dream, their educational dream, their career denied, because someone had used a sub optimal selection criteria.

(03:34) My co-founder Alan and I wanted to change this unfair situation. We wanted to explore the ways that we could better match individuals to educational career opportunities. And we got really excited because we realized that we had a world changing opportunity here. If we could bring credentials, kicking and screaming into the information age. We could make that change in the world. We realized that a big part of the problem is that we summarize people down into a low resolution number or a letter, a GPA or a grade. This student is an A, this student is a B. In reality it is much more nuanced than that. If you average people out, they might sit on one side or another of this curve, but if you take somebody that might have been a, perhaps a low performer in one area and put them in another, they might Excel. And all too often, we just don't have the data or the context for many individuals to do anything other than take an average and send them on their way.

(04:25) But here's the thing, we're already in the information age, we've actually solved this problem and problems like it before in other domains. Think about the world of advertising, for example. 20 years ago, if you wanted to advertise a product, for example, you would buy a billboard or a TV ad. You’d blast it out to millions of people. And you'd hope that some percent of those people were interested in your product. And maybe a couple of percent of those would buy your product. But today, if you're selling baby toys, for example, you can target pregnant women in San Diego. With that level of accuracy, you can reach people. We've got a very high resolution image of who you are today. Imagine if that could be turned towards a force for good, instead of selling people more things. Imagine if we could start to invest in people like the individuals they are when it comes to their careers or their educational opportunities.

(05:20) So that's why we started Accredible. We decided to start innovating in the world of credentials. So we took a good look around and we identified a few problems with the status quo when it comes to how we think about credentials as a society. So let's talk about what credentialing looks like today. And after that, we'll talk about the innovation that we're starting to see to address these problems. And then we'll wrap up with what the future looks like. I'll start from the individual learner's perspective. How do credentials fit into their lives? Well, that's changed dramatically over the centuries. The world gets more complex every year, year on year, decade on decade. And the way society dealt with that in the past is to educate ourselves more, to increase everybody's ability on mass. More education, more specialization led to whole new classes of careers as society got more complex. Around the world people are faced with complex education and career choices though.

(06:14) They're getting increasingly confused about the path that they should take to reach their career goals. Young people or people switching careers may even find it hard to know what their goal should even be. And more education now often isn't the answer. People need the equivalent of a Google Maps for their career. Something that shows them what to invest in when, in order to meet their life goals. And even then, people need to specialize way more in their skill sets than they used to have to. You see, it used to be that you got a credential once. You went to university or college, earned your degree, and you were done. Employees would hire you for that alone, safe on the assumption that you'd be qualified for the job from day one. That's not how the world works anymore. Degrees today are just a starting point. They're too low resolution now.

(06:58) They don't tell us what we need to actually know to make a confident hiring decision. They used to, but they don't anymore. The world of work has really changed in the last century. My degree for example, is in computer science, but you don't hire computer scientists anymore. You hire backend Google Cloud platform certified engineers or angular front end engineers. And that's not just tech. Almost every job sector has become highly specialized over the last 50 years. Take nursing for example, nursing went from being one job at the turn of the last century to over a hundred highly specialized roles today. You don't hire nurses anymore, you hire critical care nurses or cardiac care nurses. And nursing is actually one of the slowest examples of specialization. Marketing is a fascinating example, because it went from four specialized roles 10 years ago to 50 today.

(07:49) So the number of new professions being created is increasing year on year at a very fast pace. There's just no way a university can update it’s degree programs in pace with that kind of fragmentation. It'll take a university on average, two or three years to spin up a new degree program. They have to adapt slowly to changing market demands. So they have to focus on their foundational subjects. Their role isn't necessarily job readiness anymore, but to provide a strong foundation for a career that can then be built upon. As a result it’s getting harder and harder to know what to learn when to meet career aims. With careers and education getting so fragmented so fast that even education institutions can't keep up. How are individuals meant to figure out what to study and when in order to meet their career goals? Where should they work? How should they specialize?

(08:38) Most people just have to end up picking something and hoping for the best. Thankfully innovation is happening across the board designed to solve these problems. But before we talk about some of those innovations, let's look at some of the problems that employers face when it comes to credentials. Let's say you start hiring for a new role. The number of applicants who might apply for that job is on average, 118, and often it's much more. And of course, after interviews, you might then select one person for the job. So the process is less than 1% efficient, and you still really know if you've hired the right person until months later. And it's actually downhill from there. Take a look at this. ADP is a very large payroll processing and background checking organization in the US. They handle payroll for a sixth of all Americans, and they run several million background checks every year.

(09:27) They reported that out of 2.6 million background checks in one year, 44% of people had lied about their work history. 41% had lied about their education, and perhaps most alarmingly 23% had a falsified credential or license. So almost half of the data that you were evaluating people on is seriously flawed, 23% dangerously. So we’re already starting from a very precarious position when it comes to trying to figure out who was qualified for which jobs. Why are those numbers so alarmingly high. Well it boils down to a few things. It's expensive and time consuming to check credentials. So many employees just skip the verification process entirely, but it's also sometimes very complex, with so many new types of credentials and specializations being created. It's hard for employees to keep track of what is credible and what isn't, unless you're already a domain expert in the role that you're hiring for.

(10:22) And of course, many people just don't expect the fraud levels to be as high as they are. So they get a little complacent. And of course, as we talked about before, there are so many new types of jobs specialization that the old way of determining whether someone is qualified or not for a job, just doesn't work very well anymore. Your degree often isn't enough now. It's just too low resolution and it's only gonna get more and more decentralized and fragmented as we progress. So how do we decide who to hire with limited, often incorrect information? Well, we fall back on a combination of three things, social proof, previous job roles, and how well the person can argue or convince in an interview that they can do the job. We fall back on the best data that we can to make inferences about what people can do.

(11:09) Effectively we let people self-report, which means strong candidates look pretty good, but only often with a 44% accuracy rate. And it's actually often the people who are the best at deception that can look the best. That's crazy if you think about it. Think about if the money lending industry, for example, made decisions about credit worthiness this way, there wouldn't be any credit card companies left. Yet this is the status quo when it comes to us as a society making decisions around who is employable and who isn't. So those are some of the day-to-day problems employers are thinking about. There are also some high-level themes on their mind too. Remote work was gaining steam before the pandemic, and now it looks like it's here to stay. This is removing barriers to hiring across different geographies. Employees must now accommodate a workforce that's increasingly global. One that includes a growing number of remote workers.

(12:02) And this means having to understand credentials and qualifications from even more countries than before, adding even more complexity, as well as more opportunity. We're seeing deeper social economic inequalities with a greater impact on young people, women, low-income workers, and ethnic minorities. Thought leaders around the world are recognizing that we need to create a more equitable and sustainable economy that all can prosper in. Eliminating bias from the hiring pipeline from career opportunities is one step towards a more equitable and more productive society. Digital credentialing platforms like Accredible will be the source of truth for skills-based hiring. Enabling professionals to advance their careers without bias by validating competencies in a more secure and equitable way. And of course, there's increasing demand for data centric decision making when it comes to career advancement and promotions. Human resource professionals will integrate credentialing platforms into their tech stack to strengthen data backed decision-making around hiring, promoting, and retaining talent.

(13:03) As organizations make hiring top talent their priority, skills-based hiring will displace degree based hiring as the de facto standard. Skills will need to undergo an easy online verification process, making digital credentials an integral part of every hiring process. We'll start to hire based on much more granular skill sets than before. And we'll be able to accept much more non-traditional alternatives to tertiary education as valid entry points to careers. Okay. That's a lot of problems with the status quo, but it's also exciting because there's a huge amount of progress that we can make through technology and business innovations. And a lot is happening in this space already. Let's go through some of the things that digital credential companies are doing to bring credentials into the information age. Let's start from the individual's perspective again. People are finally able to start to get the data they need to make informed decisions about what to learn and when in order to meet their career goals.

(13:58) Digital credentials are being supplemented with much more metadata than ever before. Not just the basics. You can now learn about what the average salaries are for a credential that you're considering, or the number of jobs that are open in your geographic area related to this credential. And educational institutions from universities to professional associations, to even tech companies nowadays who are creating many certifications, are communicating much more clearly, which credentials you can take in order to unlock different career aims. And it turns out that if you get halfway along perhaps one educational career pathway, and it isn't working out for you. They're giving you guidance now on how to salvage your hard work and switch to a different career pathway and start halfway along that one. And giving this kind of information to learners is having a very real impact. One of our larger customers, for example, reported seeing an increase in course completion rates of over 50% than they had before when they launched their digital pathways based digital badging program.

(14:50) That's a huge increase for an online learning platform. Individuals are protagonists nowadays and personal brand is a very important part of career progression today. People are able to identify a professional trend, get specialized rigorous qualifications in it from well-respected brands and flag themselves to employers. And that's what we're seeing in the marketplace right now, while universities are necessarily slow to react to market forces. Product companies are moving at the speed of the market. If you want to specialize as a DevOps engineer, who better to learn that from than Docker for example. Who better to learn Cloud infrastructure, than from Google. Who better to learn sales, than from Salesforce. Our customers are leading the way in bringing innovative, specialized credentials to people throughout their careers. And once people do get certified with a specialist credential, they can now opt in to appear in professional directories.

(15:49) Just think about how life-changing that is. You decided you want to be Google certified. You found the certification, you put in the work, you aced the exam, you got your credential. And now you're listed in the official Google directory for Google Cloud certified experts. For recruiters to find potential employers, to verify with a click. That's personal branding. And as credentials get more digital. They're increasingly social too. People are sharing their achievements in moments of pride on places like LinkedIn and Facebook for their peers to see. And you see heartwarming conversations, congratulating each other on their hard work and asking for advice on whether they should consider taking this credential for themselves. And making it so that you never lose your credential again by sending it to your email anytime you need it, or storing it in your Apple or Android wallet for example. It means that it's easy to produce your credentials when necessary in a secure and verifiable way.

(16:41) We're already seeing some of our customers using the phone wallet card feature, for example, for things like providing security clearance, when passing through TSA airport gates or safety clearance when working on a construction site. And what about from the employer's perspective? What innovations are we seeing in their world when it comes to credentials? Digital credentials can now include contextual metadata on the credential itself. So the employees can immediately understand what the certified person can do as a result of having the credential, which organization is behind the credential, what the syllabus was, how deep it was, what specific skills are learned as a result of earning the credential. Essentially employers can figure out what the credential is worth to them. Even if they have little or no domain expertise themselves. And of course, credential fraud is fast becoming a thing of the past too. You can call to verify credentials like you could in the old days, but you can of course, just click that verification button on the credential itself and it's free too.

(17:37) So a lot of the barriers to verification we talked about before are just starting to melt away. So what about these blockchain credentials that you may have heard of? Why are they useful? Well it boils down to two things, longevity and security. It's not all that rare that a university, for example, ceases to exist, making all of the credential holders of that institution no longer able to verify their credentials anymore. The learning institution may no longer exist, but the learning still happened, that doesn't need to be invalidated. Due to the decentralized nature of blockchain credentials, you can verify and evaluate them, even if the original organization isn't a part of that verification. But the biggest benefit is security. It's the ability to get those fraud numbers down to zero once and for all. Here's how that works. Before digital credentials existed. The barrier to making a fake credential was very low.

(18:27) A kid with Photoshop could make a convincing fake certificate, and then companies like Accredible came along and really raised the barrier to creating fraudulent credentials. This was still before the rise of blockchain, but what companies like Accredible were able to do by bringing credentials onto the server, was making it so that you actually had to hack our servers in order to create a fake credential. And we have bank levels of security, you know, we're audited by Google and governments every year to make sure that our servers are secure. So it's pretty hard to do. But even with that, does that mean for example, that a dedicated team of adversarial government back attackers couldn't break in? Well, clearly not, just look at some of the news coverage we've seen over the last few years. And that's where blockchain credentials come in. Blockchain credentials exist, not just on our servers, but are replicated onto the millions and millions of other computers in the world that are on the same blockchain as us.

(19:17) And in order to make a fake credential now, you don't just need to hack one fortress anymore, but the majority of computers in the world on the same blockchain at the same time. And that's just not possible. You need orders of magnitude more computing power than we have on the entire planet in order to pull that off. And even, then you'd still be able to notice. It's a very powerful technology. Employees can self manage their workforce development now. They're making learning opportunities more clear and easier to find for employees and communicating which specific career advancement can result from which training. They can much more effectively remove hidden bias from the evaluation and promotion processes. And they can keep employees motivated, increasing retention, as HR moves away from being just a cost center towards being a value driver, not just for the institution, but for the individual as well.

(20:04) So those are some of the innovations and improvements that we're seeing in the credentialing world today, but where could it be in a decade? At Accredible, we have a vision for the future of credentials. Once the proper infrastructure has been built out and credentials have been standardized in the right way. First of all, credentials are going to be ongoing. They won't just be a snapshot of your ability at one particular point in time. There will be a living breathing document that will evolve and update as you progress through your career. And as you add to your skills and your knowledge. This is particularly important for degrees like mine, computer science, or others like medical degrees, where much of the knowledge you gain once you graduate is obsolete within a decade for example. In the future, your credentials will keep up with you as you hone and improve your skills and your knowledge, they’ll be consistently up to date.

(20:51) No two learners are the same and no two credentials will be either in the future. Very often two people with the exact same credential, with the exact same grade, will have totally different strengths. We'll stop summarizing people down into a letter or a grade, hemorrhaging information about what they were good at. What they were passionate about. Credentials will likely still include things like grades and averages, but they will also be enhanced with a lot more individualized metadata allowing people to show individualized narratives that they control and what they excelled at. They won't be one-size-fits-all anymore. They'll be tailor-made. We'll be amazed that it was possible for two people to have the same credential in a decade from now. And when it comes to credential fraud, I think we'll start to think about it the same way that we think about HTTPS encryption today on web pages.

(21:42) We don't really think about signing into our email or our bank anymore. We just have a look at that little padlock in the corner of our browser, see that it's there and then feel that we can trust that. And we're going to have equivalent behind the scenes, verifiable at a glance mechanisms behind every credential listed on places like LinkedIn and job sites and resumes in the future. Remember this image about how well marketers can make predictions today? Well, I think far and away, the most exciting part about the future of credentialing is that every individual and every employer will have the data to make informed decisions about what education or career pathways to pursue or who to hire. What the expected ROI will be. It will be based on huge data sets based on many thousands of other people that went down the same path. We'll be able to track which credentials led to which career outcomes of different types of people at different stages in their lives and their careers and different geographies.

(22:35) And we won't find ourselves guessing and hoping for the best when it comes to one of the most expensive choices we make in terms of time and money, where to spend our working lives. We'll be able to use statistics to guide that decision-making. And once we have that, things get really interesting, because then we can start to remove risk from people's career choices. If we have the data to be able to say that statistically people with your background, who take this and that credential, can expect this particular outcome within this particular time horizon. Our customers will be able to start making guarantees in a way that only insurance companies can today. They'll be able to say, based on our data you can expect a job in this sector or a salary increase of this much within a year, or we'll waive the cost of your education. You'll only need to pay if it pays off for you. Imagine a world where we didn't have to guess when it came to educational ROI. So we're excited at Accredible about what the future entails. We're building on our vision to provide a clear high resolution image of people's potential and increasing society's ability to educate and hire based on skill and to increase equity of opportunity. If any of you are involved with education programs, we'd love to partner with you and become agents of change together. Thank you very much.