Digital Credentials and Talent Acquisition Tech

A recently published research report from Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy in partnership with 1EdTech attracted my attention.

Report co-authors Sean Gallagher, Mark Leuba, Christopher Houston, and Emilee Trieckel wrote that in 2021 the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy in conjunction with 1edtech conducted a survey of 750 corporate human resource (HR) leaders as part of the Wellspring Initiative. The survey confirmed that HR leaders were interested in the growing adoption of competency frameworks, digital credentials, and skills-based hiring practices but found that technical integration between HR is a significant potential barrier.

As a result of the 2021 survey findings, the two organizations conducted additional surveys in 2022 and 2023 to deeply explore how existing HR technologies treat educational credentials and skills data.

Six key findings surfaced from the research.

Finding #1 – Most talent acquisition systems are not yet prepared to accept new types of non-degree credentials or richer skills data: they remain geared around basic educational information and unstructured data such as PDF attachments.

Finding #2 – Job candidates’ applications and resumes often pass through multiple software systems and intermediaries, which can introduce inconsistencies and data loss.

Finding #3 – Most systems do not authenticate educational credentials by default, and largely do not support digital credential verification.

Finding #4 – Technology providers confirm growing customer interest in supporting skills-based hiring practices.

Finding #5 – Capabilities vary – but progress is expected – in how talent acquisition systems manage skills data.

Finding #6 – Talent acquisition technology firms see positive benefits in leveraging AI: many are actively implementing it and others are building the use cases for increased investment.

The report’s authors provide an implications and recommendations section for each of these findings, none of which are surprising. The finding that interests me the most is Finding #3 related to the authentication of educational and all digital credentials. Interestingly, the authors write that “better credential verification does not appear to be a primary use case for digital credential adoption among most HR leaders, while interest in verification and building a future where individuals own their own learning records is growing.”

It’s odd to me that with the Open Badge standard, the Credential Engine framework, and other verifiable credential standards that this finding is not supported by many of the HR leaders. In a recent post I noted that very few companies are the size of IBM and could spend the hundreds of millions of dollars to build an AI-supported record system used to track and predict upskilling and reskilling needs for all employees. Despite the availability of HR system APIs and cryptographic methods of credential storage, the authors write that most talent acquisition systems are not verifying credentials in this way. It appears from some of the comments that one reason this has not been implemented widely is due to the cost of developing it. Another reason appears to be that “credential verification is not especially high on employers’ list of business challenges and functionality demands.”

Building a future where individuals own their own learning records is growing. Obviously, there are many places where learners can maintain portions of their records (college registrar, LinkedIn for public badges, state licensing agencies, etc.), but I am unaware of any entity that dominates that market. Recently, I had several meetings with the founder and CEO of Boston-based Gobekli, a universal talent passport system. The system uses Chat AI and Talent AI to collect records and build a skill tree for each learner. Learners maintain their records in its cloud storage system but have an app-based passport to utilize. It’s still in the pilot stages and would benefit from a large employer, university, or certificate provider participating in the pilot. I like its focus on standards and believe this could catch on quickly with individuals.

The report’s recommendations include a statement that “stakeholders with an interest in the emerging digital credentialing and skills ecosystem (including educational credential issuers, edtech companies, some industry leaders, and policymakers) must be aware that there is still a significant gap to close before credential earners and employers can benefit at a greater scale from the potential of these educational technology innovations.” The authors note that “the growing demand for skills-based hiring appears to be the use case that will most significantly influence and elevate how talent acquisition technologies treat and interface with digital credentials and skills information.”

I like the level of detailed research conducted for this report. The authors’ findings and recommendations are very important for education providers and employers to consider. If employers continue to remove the bachelor’s degree requirement from many jobs, having verified digital credentials available to reduce the applicant screening process will be vital.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence