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The Value of Badges to an Older Workforce


I experienced a convergence of an odd sorts the other week. I read my colleague Pete Janzow’s article on unlocking career potential. This is a common theme at Credly; the idea of using digital badges to document one’s achievements. Then another colleague forwarded this article on the importance of retaining older women in the workforce . (That was odd because I am only 35 in my mind.) But then the worst happened: a younger person underestimated me.

Ask my children (they’re millennials) and they’ll tell you: I have more energy than they do, I am more focused, and I am constantly upskilling.

What if all of my learning and experience, beyond formal schooling, degrees and certifications, were captured in one profile? I might not ever be underestimated again.

Right now, Boomers account for a quarter of the workforce. We haven’t all retired. Within the modern workplace, there is an expectation of continuous learning to stay relevant. This explains why LinkedIn Learning reported that in 2017, 27% of companies were appropriating more money in the budget to training and development. The primary areas of focus were to develop managers and leaders, help employees develop technical skills, train global employees in a cohesive manner, and support career development. All of that is appealing to a mature worker. We still have things to learn.

Outside of training on the job, there is a new market on college campuses. Some older adults are returning to the classroom thanks to early retirement. A few colleges and educational providers call them “Plus 50’s.” In many cases, the older student did not choose or welcome this status. That said, they’re amassing certifications and shorter programs of study to re-enter the workforce. That means they may also be amassing digital badges!

Beefing up a professional profile through ongoing learning or “lifewide learning” is a little like strengthening one’s professional bones to avoid career osteoporosis. As Jonathan Finkelstein, Founder and CEO of Credly, describes lifewide learning differs from lifelong learning. LifeLONG learning describes learning through the length of one’s life and assumes one learning event at a time. LifeWIDE learning means learning from many different places at any one time. For example, you might be an adult who is learning from your employer, enrolled in a certification or degree program, and learning from your association, and picking up skills while volunteering for a civic or community group, and reading and self-studying on a topic of interest to your personal life. “And, and, and” is an apt description of many older workers; our complexity means we have a lot going on at the same time (aging parents, careers, homes to maintain, adult children, community involvement). Jonathan’s point is that people pick up skills from many places during any one moment in their lives. If these were all represented by digital credentials, imagine what the mature worker’s profile might look like!

There is always something new to learn. It might be a unique certification such as a specialization through Coursera; it could be a singular class through IBM’s When learning opportunities provide digital credentials, the mature worker could outshine the millennials. Just ask my kids.