Employment and Digital Credentials: The Colorado Success Story Part 2
In my previous blog post, Employment and Digital Credentials: The Colorado Success Story Part 1, I talked about my ah-ha moment between digital credentials and job placement for granular roles that typically went unfilled. The need for “middle-skills” jobs and employees is growing in the U.S., and is critical to the evolution of agriculture, manufacturing, oil and gas production and the tourism industries.
Before moving to Colorado in 2007, I lived around the Washington, D.C. beltway and worked in an educational system where everyone entered the workforce with at least a Bachelor’s degree. They typically obtained a Master’s degree within three years from the first day on the job, and PhD’s and Master’s degrees were the baseline. Rarely was there a conversation about skills or competencies, but of what type of degree or research project qualified you for your current position.
Yet, that type of conversation changed when I moved to Colorado, the conversation moved from qualifications to skills. The evening news was filled with stories of employers struggling to fill open positions, the state government also published items on how the lack of skilled workers was impacting the Colorado state economy. A 2011 report by the National Skills Coalition, (Washington, DC) identified that Colorado's economy relies on a combination of traditional industries— agriculture, health care, manufacturing, oil and gas production, and tourism— and emerging, technology-based sectors such as aerospace, bioscience, and renewable energy. It also reported that in 2011, Colorado had the eighteenth largest state economy in the nation and close to 35 percent of the residents have a college degree or more.
While the well-educated population continues to help diversify and expand the economy, this news was not helping post-secondary students or incumbent workers find well-paying jobs. Some within the state referred to the Colorado workforce as having an “hourglass shape,” highly skilled/educated workers at the top, large numbers of low-skilled, low-wage workers at the bottom, and disproportionately few middle-skilled workers - those with some post-secondary education and training. The story which isn’t being told is that the Colorado economy, and the U.S. economy, is dependent upon those individuals who have the skills and competencies that are not document with traditional certificates, certifications or degrees.
There continues to be a focus on how to meet the demand for middle-skilled jobs - the jobs that require some level of post-secondary education, training certifications, two or four-year degrees, or even an apprenticeship. It is projected that by 2019, the need for middle-skilled workers in Colorado will be approximately 39% of the population, yet the number available middle-skilled workers is expected to drop by 2.9% by 2020.
In 2013, the Colorado Community College System, (CCCS) of 13 colleges, 39 campuses and serving approximately 135,000 students embarked on a plan to help develop stackable, latticing credentials based on skills and competencies documented through digital credentials, meeting the needs of Colorado’s Advanced Manufacturing employers. CCCS reviewed their programs, reconfigured some, and began to create multiple on and off ramps to workforce skills with stackable certificates and digital credentials. With the help of my colleagues, and through my work at CCCS, designing new curricula and identifying skills and competencies at a granular level with digital badges, CCCS was able to increase the visibility of skills and competencies for students, employers and workforce centers. The increased transparency of skills and competencies enhanced our programs and traditional transcripts and degrees. Employers could easily understand what an applicant could actually do on the manufacturing floor, applicants were better prepared to talk about their skills and competencies in language employers understood, and employers had multiple options when upskilling, re-skills and developing new skills for their employees.
To learn more about my experience at CCCS and how the digital credentialing program was implemented, download a free version of “Partnering with Employers to Create Workforce-Relevant Credentials: A Field Guide.”
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