Shi(f)t happens*

A peak into skills demands in a digital world and the key challenge of making people’s full profiles visible – start of a series on open recognition

Recently, I was talking to someone who is using AI (a catch-all term at the moment for “digital methods”) to scan workers’ CVs in the hope of using this method to identify skills gaps in the future. This is interesting, but I think it gives CVs too much importance – and is surely hampered by CVs being neither adequately standardised nor fully comprehensive.

CVs focus on information about formalised achievements such as gaining educational certificates and periods of employment. Of course, we all know that we should add something personal about us, such as that we help out at a local charity, love cooking and go running regularly. Often less formal information about our own self-assessment of competency in language skills and use of certain digital applications (e.g. Word, Excel, Stata, Autodesk) is also included. But is this really an adequate mirror of our competencies – and a good data source for identifying skills gaps?

I will argue briefly that it isn’t, which is why we should be paying more attention to alternative credential systems – especially around open badges (a technology) and open recognition (a social process based on open badges).

This first of a series of blogs starts out by laying out the current challenge. It argues that the digital world will make this inadequacy of current systems much more significant.

Changes on the labour market and in business processes, which are largely driven by digitalisation, will require a workforce, which has a skill set able to benefit from the opportunities provided, resilient enough to cope with change and re-position themselves frequently throughout their career, and creative enough to solve problems and develop new ideas for future progress. It is expected that many people will be working in jobs that don’t exist yet.

The training programmes reflected in a CV are based on a consensus on the knowledge and skills needed for a certain job or to work in a certain profession. The process of finding a consensus requires a conceptual aggregation of what has been learnt from practice, which is then codified in the form of curricular design and content.

A key challenge to this consensus is that digital technology is a general type of innovation, which can be harnessed in many different ways. It leads to social innovations in terms of changes to the way people interact with one another and with machines. This social innovation is about harnessing the augmentation properties of digitalisation, where human characteristics can improve outcomes through better communication structures, analytical insights and creativity around standardised solutions. These are general properties, but they may become more standardised in different fields over time. However, they are equally likely to continue to change and develop as technical potentials change and develop.

Additionally, education is also a personal journey and the opportunity to develop values and attitudes, which influence how a person will apply their knowledge and skills. The OECD 2030 education project emphasises the need for ‘transformative competencies’, which provide the basis for people to create new values, to be aware of tensions and dilemmas and to be prepared to take responsibility for their decisions for themselves and the world around them.

What does this all mean for people’s skills and competency profiles? The short answer is that formal information (courses completed, employment contracts had) will not reflect the actual skills set a person has acquired. We actually know this in the workplace, which is why the CV is normally supplemented by two informal information sources: the application letter and references from previous employers. In many cases, the applicant is also asked to respond to a certain challenge situation, with the help of which the recruiter hopes to gain additional insights.

But perhaps there is a better way to meet the need for documented information in a format, which is standardised, but flexible enough to capture different types of competencies and experiences. That is the core argument behind using open badges. This will be discussed more extensively in the next blog.

*Picture of a skills profile as a bar code was taken from Blivin, J., & Mayo, M. J. (2019). 2 Shift Happens: Finding Strong Footing: The Future of Assessment in the Learning-to-Employment Landscape. Innovate+Educate. The report is also very interesting, but I am dubious about representing a person’s profile in the sense of a stamp. This doesn’t imply the dynamism and flexibility we require.


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