From education to employment

Connecting the Dots: How digital credentials can bridge UK’s soft skills gap

Chris Kirk, Managing Director, Digitalme and Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO and Founder, Credly

In a few months, school leavers will be getting their GCSE and A Level results, turning thoughts towards their future careers. Will they continue studying? Or start an apprenticeship? Perhaps some will apply for their first entry-level jobs?

Regardless of the route they plan to take, many will worry whether their grades will prove sufficient for the opportunities to which they aspire.

Complicating matters, research by Barclays finds the majority of UK employers struggle to find school leavers with the right skills to meet their business’ needs – especially soft skills like communication, time management and problem solving, which are often developed through exposure to the workplace. According to a report by McDonald’s, by 2020, the annual contribution of soft skills to the economy will reach £109bn, but over a half a million UK workers will be significantly held back by soft skills deficits.

What results is a paradoxical system where job descriptions demand “experience” that school leavers don’t have, whilst employers seek skills that leavers’ records of grades fail to reference entirely.

If qualities, behaviours and motivations are the crucial inputs required by students for success in the workplace, isn’t it time for college leavers – and indeed colleges and employers themselves – to shift their focus from solely on qualifications, to the broader soft skills acquired in the course of an education? And shouldn’t this recognition of what skills to recognise be accompanied by a new approach to how those skills are then framed, captured, communicated and verified?

We think the answer is yes on both accounts.

Times are changing

Individuals, particularly those leaving education, need to be able to assure prospective employers they are a team player, a good communicator, or that they can resolve conflict and be positive in the workplace. But in order to do so, they need to go beyond the traditional CV – which essentially just lists what they have done – to paint a fuller picture of the human skills they can offer, not just technical and academic.

Doing so could create a world where individuals represent themselves as a mosaic of knowledge, skills and behaviours and in which they could demonstrate to potential employers – in a simple, transparent and trusted way – their preparedness for the demands of the workplace. Making the invisible, visible.

The fact is, we are already part of this world. Thanks to ever-evolving career websites and professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Google’s Job Search engine; employers and prospective employees have more ability to discover and connect online than ever before. The emergence of tools like digital credentials and badges – data-rich representations of skills and competencies issued by third party authorities – allow employers to gain far more granular insight into the capabilities an individual can bring to an organisation, including those sought after soft skills, or as we like to call them – Human Skills.

Putting it into practice

So what role have education providers to play here?

By understanding the needs of local employers and providing opportunities to learn and represent key workplace skills as they progress through their education, schools and trainers can maximise their positive impact on their learners’ future development.

Some innovative colleges and universities are already leading the way in bridging the communication gap between education and the workforce. In response to wider employer concerns around the work-related skills of students leaving formal education, Sussex Downs College partnered with their local council and Digitalme to develop an ‘Employability Passport’. This provides their learners not only with a qualification, but a suite of evidence based employability badges, developed in partnership with employers, to provide evidence of their skills and abilities.

As part of the programme design process, Sussex Downs College’s employer-partners agreed to guarantee work experience or an interview to those individuals who achieved the ‘Reliable’ or ‘Teamwork’ badges. This positive feedback loop – where employers define key competencies and in turn guarantee opportunities if those competencies are achieved – resulted in better prepared applicants and more engaged employers.

Many students who have graduated from the college have gone on to work full-time for local employers or even been inspired to set up their own businesses in the locality.

By shifting what skills are being recognised, finding a common language and currency and by using technology to share these achievement is a trusted way, individuals are empowered to uncover and communicate previously hidden skills – which in turn, enables employers to find the right candidate they’re looking for.

Chris Kirk, Managing Director, Digitalme and Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO and Founder, Credly

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