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Credential Transparency & the Internet of Careers: A conversation with Deb Everhart of Credential Engine


We recently sat down with Deb Everhart, Chief Strategy Officer at Credential Engine, where she’s leading the expansion of credential transparency initiatives that enable more effective connections between education and career opportunities. She has long been a leader in the development of open technology standards and learner-centric innovations, including leading early work toward competencies as currency and chairing the workgroup that defined a conceptual framework and technical standards for Open Badge endorsements. Credential Engine is a member of the Velocity Network Foundation.



Describe the challenge that your organization, Credential Engine, seeks to address


We have literally hundreds of years of tradition of degrees being the gold standard in credentials. And there are a lot of good reasons for that. Degrees are valuable, but they’re not the only thing that’s valuable.


The way our education and employment systems have traditionally worked is that you go to college, you get a degree, maybe even get an advanced degree, and you use that as currency to get a job. Employers look at these degrees and say “Oh, you have a Bachelor of Science degree. Bravo, you’ve made it through my screening process, let me interview you.”


But there are so many inequities in that process; so many problems and assumptions, filled with so much bias.  We really have to break that down so that we can see what’s inside those degree credentials — what’s inside all credentials.


But doing so is challenging. In part because there are so many different “languages” used in terms of what skills and learning outcomes either are or aren’t embedded in which courses at which institutions. As a result, employers have a tendency to make assumptions; they see an Ivy League college degree, assume it must be good, and they push forward with the candidate. In other cases, maybe they’ve never heard of a particular institution and ask themselves why they should trust it or the candidate’s capabilities.


As an industry, we need to make sure that all of the details about these different types of credentials, from different institutions, are fully transparent so that we’re not having to make these assumptions. With transparency, you can actually inspect those details and make better, well-informed decisions.


How is Credential Engine addressing this problem of transparency and interoperability?


The key component of our work is the credential transparency description language (CTDL). This is an open schema that provides over 500 different terms, as well as a grammar for using those terms, to describe education and training types of credentials encompassing everything from degrees, certificates, certifications, licensure, badges, and more. All of those 500 terms can be used to describe these credentials and their related information. And because it’s all linked open data, it’s human readable and machine readable.


Linked open data – this is an important concept; everybody uses it every day without realizing it. When you do a Google search and you find out that the restaurant down the street is open until 9pm, that’s actually linked open data that’s combining that information about the map, the time, and where you are.


The way this works for credentials is that you can now say “this credential organization offers this credential, and it’s accredited by this quality assurance organization, and it’s recognized by this employer.” And then you can build apps that let you use that data effectively.


So for example, now in this time when millions of people need to re-skill or find new employment, if they have their own credentials in a linked open data format, they can use an online tool to figure out literally what are the links between what they have and what jobs and reskilling opportunities are available.

How close are we to global interoperability and transparency of credentials?


When you think about ecosystems and how stakeholders have to come together and agree on what are their shared problems, what does a shared solution look like, it’s still relatively early in terms of all the stakeholders across education, training, many different types of credentialing organizations, and how employers consume that and how learners can control their own records.


We are now at that stage of development where large employers and large employment record management system vendors, which would include HR systems, ATS systems and the like, need to come together and lead the way; to say that “we understand why this type of ecosystem is important and why investing in this work raises all boats, because it helps everyone have a much more efficient talent marketplace.”


It doesn’t mean that vendors don’t have proprietary data systems, proprietary tools and the things that give them a competitive advantage. It means that everyone contributes to a shared body of public information that’s linked open data, in the same way that other industries like retail and hospitality have done this. We’ve already seen this in industries, such as product IDs were uniformly adopted even across competing retailers.



The trends seem to be shifting to skill-based hiring.  Without transparency, are we really ready for this?


Skills based hiring is important for a lot of reasons. One because many people, for a whole variety of reasons, cannot complete a degree program, yet they have skills, and so many employment processes are predicated on the degree, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that people who have degrees get jobs. That’s not the best thing for anyone. Employers would have a much larger talent pool if they didn’t screen based on that criteria. They would also get a better match between the job they’re trying to fill and the person they select to fill that position if they had transparency around the skills.


I could go on about the multiple benefits of skills-based hiring. But the fact is that we’re not there right now; we don’t have the infrastructure to be able to do that effectively, either on the job description side or on the credential description side.


Those two sides need to come together. And in the meantime, I think what we’re going to see is a lot of self-asserted skills, and employers will make some assumptions about what skills you have based on what’s inferred from the credential you have, or inferred from the job description you had before. We’ll see this come together in the very near future while both sides of that equation get better at accurately describing the job the skills required for a particular job and actually describing the competencies at multiple levels. To be able to describe it on those multiple types of competency or proficiency on both sides of that equation, that’s where Credential Engine is focusing.


Credential Engine’s research shows that there’s over 738,000 different educational and training credentials offered in the U.S. That’s just in the U.S., and as a sneak peek I can confirm that number is going to be bigger in this year’s report.


This is already a very difficult and complicated marketplace. And in our rush to make more and more of these different education and training opportunities available and articulate the skills that are in them, we also need to give people meaningful ways of connecting them to each other, and stacking them, to get to higher opportunities — both educational opportunities and career opportunities. Pathways – career and education pathways — are also extremely important.



Tell us why you’ve joined the other industry titans within the Velocity Network Foundation. 


We would love to help this important network of key stakeholders succeed in being able to find a common ground, about how education and training credentials are defined.


And because the credential transparency description language is a rich language of over 500 terms, there’s ample opportunity for all of the different providers in the ecosystem to provide rich data that differentiates themselves from their competitors. Also, everyone who’s consuming that data can have a much richer understanding of what’s valuable for what reasons.


One of the reasons we joined Velocity Network Foundation is that it’s pulling the disparate players across the global labor landscape together, and as participants in the Foundation we have an even greater opportunity to work closely across this ecosystem to help drive credential transparency across those many different entities.


But the key thing is really getting back to the people, the individuals who are going to benefit from this, because if I can transparently hold onto credentials that represent what I know and what I can do accurately and thoroughly, then that should help me in my career advancement and make the most of my talent.



Where do you envision this market 1 year from now, credentials-wise?

I would say that a year from now, we will be in a situation where the vast majority of education and employment organizations have access to linked open data, and the tools they need to be able to use that effectively in their education and training processes, and in their employee selection and progression process. I don’t expect it to be widely adopted by a year from now, but I see enough changes in the market that I think it’s realistic that there would be access to these tools, and the ability to express this linked open data across that full spectrum.


What I wish could be true, would be that the majority of people do control their digital identity and have a way of pulling together all their credentials. This has been a passion of mine for so long. How do we own our own learning? How do I have a sense of self confidence and worth because I know what my learning has been, and I can articulate it myself, and therefore I can more effectively apply it, even under difficult circumstances, to fulfilling education and learning and career pathways.


I would really love for it to be possible for many millions of people to have that opportunity. It might take longer than a year from now because I think that the organizations that can provide the tools that can help people document where they are in their pathways and what they have, the ecosystem of these organizations, is going to have to be in place before individuals can really get the full benefit out of it. But we’ll get there.