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Digital Credentials and Talent Acquisition Tech

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.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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