Revving up the New Credential Engine

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When it comes to proving your qualifications for work, these are the best of times … and the worst.

The good news is, the credentialing industry is booming − with industry certifications, occupational licenses, certificates, degrees, badges, apprenticeship credentials, and other postsecondary credential pathways to choose from. The bad news is, it’s chaotic for learners and employers alike. In the last three decades, the number of credentials awarded by the growing array of providers (secondary schools, colleges, universities, employer certification associations, third-party organizations) has jumped a whopping 800 percent. There are now thousands of certifying institutions.

In this credentialing maze, it’s nearly impossible for applicants to determine a program’s quality – and often equally difficult for employers to determine what skills many credentials actually convey. There are millions of good jobs going unfilled in America – many in skilled professions. A recent survey of top CEOs from the Business Roundtable found that 97 percent see the skills gap as a major problem. The joblessness resulting from this skills mismatch has hit men especially hard. Despite overall employment bouncing back to pre-recession levels — with a 4.8 percent unemployment rate in January — 15 percent of working-age men still can’t find paid work, a level nearly on par with that seen during the Great Depression.

These factors represent tremendous obstacles to individuals and our economy – and one critical way to reduce these obstacles is to bring more clarity and consistency to the credentialing system. There is growing consensus that a strong credentialing system requires many support beams, including: 1) educational institutions that provide a diverse array of effective preparation programs; 2) employers that clearly specify the skills needed to enter and advance in their fields; 3) learners who are empowered to navigate through the credentialing marketplace; 4) financial assistance to enable low-income learners to obtain credentials required for career and life success; 5) standards, licensing and accrediting bodies that identify and verify that credentials stand for quality; and 6) data systems that report how we’re doing at creating and maintaining an aligned education/workforce marketplace.

If any of these support beams are weak, the system can falter. If credential programs don’t deliver quality learning behind credentials, for example, businesses that employ individuals with deficient credentials will be ill-served. Learners will be ill-served as well, wasting precious time and money in educational programs. And if employers don’t clearly specify the skills they need, educational institutions won’t have the information they need to build and maintain quality programs.

This web of interrelated needs has helped spur the creation of a new nonprofit organization dedicated to improving transparency and accountability in the credentials market. That entity, called Credential Engine, began in 2013 as a Lumina Foundation grant project and is now in position to scale up three areas of work:

1. Using common language – newly developed and tested software called Credential Transparency Description Language – to describe key features of credentials and credentialing organizations via Google and other Internet search engines.

2. Building a first-of-its-kind voluntary Credential Registry that shares comparable information from credentialing organizations about the range of credentials and how these credentials relate to each other.

3. Testing and building software applications using information contained in the Credential Registry − customized apps to be used by employers, learners, educators, career counselors, and many others.

Once the Credential Registry is sufficiently populated, software developers will be able to build apps for diverse users, as has occurred in other industry sectors (i.e., as Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity have revolutionized the travel marketplace).

In short, it’s time to rev up the Credential Engine – time for all providers of credentials to make their information “discoverable” on the registry. In turn, Credential Engine will maintain the open-licensed Credential Registry and Credential Transparency Description Language, and promote an open-applications marketplace.

We believe that creating real transparency and accountability in the credentials market could go a long way toward bringing much-needed order to our chaotic credentialing marketplace. Learn more about the Credential Engine effort at

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