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August 27, 2021

Future of Higher Education

Skills Summit Recap: Empowering Learner-Earners

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By WGU Team

The pandemic has forced seismic changes in education and the way in which people work, accelerating the movement towards skills-based learning and hiring. The Open Skills Network (OSN), of which WGU is a founding member, seeks to lead the transition by building collaborative partnerships and a universal skill language. 

At the recent OSN Skills Summit, discussion focused on several pilot projects and how they build learner agency through the development of rich skills descriptors (RSDs). If a skill were a song, then the notes would be RSDs. They are the metadata that make skills understandable and transferable across the learning-earning landscape. With educational institutions and employers learning this new tune, it is important for job seekers to be able to sing it, too.

According to a recent study, 48% of Americans are rethinking the type of job they want post-pandemic and 53% say that they would be willing to switching industries entirely if retraining were possible. It is critical that workers not only be able to describe the skills they possess but also that they understand their currency and value in the present marketplace. Understanding the power of skills and being able to accurately portray them empowers potential employees.

Four different OSN pilot projects were highlighted during the Skills Summit. The focus of the North Dakota Credentials pilot was to implement verified credentials for high school and college transcripts, specifically within the cybersecurity pathway. It was conducted within the larger framework of the North Dakota Choice Ready program. The work required creation of a web wallet to showcase each student’s skills and assist in advocating to potential employers about their qualifications for a job.

A robust achievement wallet was also the focus of the pilot conducted in Indiana that zeroed in on the skills of workers within the healthcare industry. This study created a validated collection of medical assisting RSDs that were machine readable and taggable to curriculum, job descriptions, and digital credentials. 

A broader view was taken by the ASU team in their pilot, which focused on a “meta-competency” framework. This means aligning skills across curricula to help students understand their educational journey as it relates to work, as well as ensuring skill alignment across various university disciplines, external accreditors, and employers.

The fourth pilot, led by MatchMaker Education Labs, examined how detailed a skill description should be and how that affects an RSD’s application across different organizations.

It is critical for RSDs to share the same meaning and act as a common language that describes workforce skills. The pandemic has left a vast swath of the working age population unemployed or has disrupted their earning potential. A universal skills language can lead to more equitable access to learning and work opportunities while ensuring the learner-earner’s qualifications are understood by educators and employers. 

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