In the wake of the economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have started rethinking their career trajectories. These workers are looking for opportunities to upskill in their current fields or reskill into a different career.
For learner-workers who are considering a change, calculating the return on investment—of both money and time—is crucial. Students have always deserved educational opportunities aligned with workforce needs and employment opportunities, but the significant rise in the cost of higher education makes this alignment even more critical.
The promise of higher education must lead to better lives for students and their families. It’s imperative that we map skills and competencies achieved through education to real-world, in-demand skills for hiring purposes. Troublingly, the gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the skilled talent pool capable of filling them continues to widen. In the manufacturing sector, for example, it’s estimated that between now and 2028, 2.4 million jobs will likely go unfilled due to the skills gap, at a possible price tag of more than $2.5 trillion.
As people move between learning and jobs, they need to be able to communicate all the skills they have acquired in different contexts. Similarly, employers and educators need to be able to understand skills that people bring with them from somewhere else. WGU is working to solve this problem by developing a skills-based approach to learning and hiring, along with the necessary ecosystem to support both.
WGU led the creation of the Open Skills Network (OSN), a partnership of over 150 employers and educational institutions committed to the creation of a shared skills-based language and infrastructure that benefits both individuals and employers. Much of the data needed to support skills-based education and hiring already exists, but it’s siloed and not easily accessible or machine-actionable, making the switch to skills-based practices a manual and expensive endeavor. This problem contributes to the ongoing skills gap and the inability to effectively and efficiently keep up with the needs of an ever-changing labor market. The OSN seeks to solve this problem as a collective advocate and innovation engine for creating a decentralized national network of open, accessible, machine-actionable skills libraries.
A key part of the infrastructure OSN seeks to establish is the Rich Skills Descriptor (RSDs). Both machine-readable and searchable, RSD data includes the context behind a skill, giving all users (the educator, the learner, and the employer) a common definition for a particular skill, while also achieving skills interoperability in credentials, education and training opportunities, job profiles, and learner records. WGU has already created a library of some 10,000 RSDs tagged to the skills within the university’s competency-based degree programs.
The adoption of harmonized open skills standards allows for the implementation of another part of the solution: the Learning and Employment Record (LER). LERs are comprehensive, exchangeable digital records of achievements in school, on the job, through volunteering, or in the military.
These records may be represented as skills and competencies, courses, certificates and degrees, and other credentials. LERs may also contain validated work history, portfolio materials, and self-asserted accomplishments. Learners control their privacy, discovery, and sharing of their LERs.