While personalised learning can help deliver the right skills to the right employee at the right time, one of the major challenges for organisations is being able to verify which skills and certifications an employee has, not to mention where or when they obtained them.
As a learning and development expert for Insights, I always have my eye on the big issues facing chief learning officers and potential solutions emerging within the L&D industry.
Some of the items commonly at the top of lists of what keeps these professionals up at night include: finding the right quality and quantity of applicants for open roles, retaining the best talent and making sure that employees have the right skills for their current jobs as well as for future development.
Increasingly, CLOs are turning to personalised learning, where the learner receives specific training to fill a skills gap rather than enrolling in a series of standard incremental programs, as HR departments struggle to recruit and upskill their people to make them as productive as possible in as short a time as possible.
At Insights, we know that one of the key factors that make personalised learning successful, especially at scale, is the ability to enrol individual employees in their own learning by activating their awareness. A learner who is aware of their unique strengths and development needs, as well as their preferred approach for gaining new skills, is often able to find the learning opportunities that they need more effectively and efficiently.
However, while personalised learning can help deliver the right skills to the right employee at the right time, one of the major challenges for organisations is being able to verify which skills and certifications an employee has, not to mention where or when they obtained them.
While we might be tempted to focus within, looking for ways to address our own company’s talent challenges in isolation, this common concern invites a more global solution. We would all be better off if we could build a global language for skills. It’s at least one step toward achieving global processes for evaluating and developing them.
McKinsey & Company has noted an increase in calls to shift toward “skill-based practices,” including skill mapping, shifting away from degree requirements in job descriptions toward identifying the skills required for the job and sourcing candidates based on the skills they have rather than the titles of jobs they have held previously. This approach shows promise for both external and internal hiring, improving retention, diversity and inclusion.
Companies that have taken this approach report immediate benefits in the number and quality of applicants for open roles, but there are also bumps in the road. The top three challenges with skills and skill-based practices, as cited by McKinsey’s 2021 state of hiring survey, are the ability to validate skills, sourcing job seekers with the right skills and scaling this approach.
This intuitively makes sense. If I need to fill a role that requires customer services skills and the ability to program Java, and I’m not relying on college degrees or previous job roles in the selection process, then the questions obviously would be: How will I know whether an applicant actually has these skills, and how can I find people with these skills and inspire them to apply for this role?
An existing but not yet broadly adopted technology called “blockchain” offers a useful solution. Blockchain refers to “a system of digital databases or ledgers where data is kept in the form of ‘blocks’ that are connected to form ‘chains.’” The data is decentralised, which makes it more trustworthy, transparent and resistant to fraudulent practices. Blockchain is useful where storage, management and security of information is required — which certainly is true of our skilling situation.
The higher education industry is exploring blockchain as a way for students to record and track their educational experiences and offers promise for verification of courses taken, assignments completed, attendance and degrees completed, which is only a step away from the skilling challenges organisations are facing.
Fully leveraged, blockchain would allow organisations an easier way to verify the skills of potential employees. Instead of relying on each employee’s claims about the skills they possess, or trying to determine the quality of a skill-based course that an employee completed in another country, the data in the decentralised blockchain for that person would have been validated as it was added.
Having a validated “chain” of skills for an employee helps not only in the selection process but also as L&D departments seek to personalise learning. Blockchain creates a more valid approach to personalising learning based on each employee’s competencies and skills gathered across their career, rather than just the skills they are demonstrating in their current organisation and role.
Moving in this direction does require a more global perspective and a magnanimous outlook. We have to be interested and willing to build a common language of skills globally, as well as be able to find ways to demonstrate them. We also will have to carefully consider which skills cut across industries such as customer service, and which are more industry-specific such as coding, keeping just a very few skills as organisation-specific. The value of blockchain can only truly be experienced when it is leveraged across organisations, sectors and geographies.
Alongside the benefits to the organisation, there are benefits to individuals. Using blockchain shifts “ownership” of L&D. Because blockchain is decentralised, no organisation would own the skills data of its employees. Instead, each employee would own their own data, and it would follow them throughout their career. If an employee develops the skill of project management through an L&D course or on-the-job experiences, this could be added to their blockchain through a validated process. Then, if they wanted to apply for a new role that required the skill of project management, whether the role was internal or external, they could easily demonstrate their capability because of the validated data in the blockchain.
Blockchain technology is an efficient way to verify what skills and technology an employee has no matter where or when they obtained them. But there’s still a long way to go before blockchain is widely adopted enough to make it a viable resource.
In the meantime, there are some steps that organisations and individuals can take on a local level to reap similar benefits. These are described below in their low or no technology versions, but certain technologies such as AI, talent management systems and xAPIs or LRS can assist in scaling these approaches.
Learn the language of skills.
Activate awareness and build a mastery transcript.
While blockchain technology will likely soon accelerate the pace and accuracy of hiring and personalised development decisions, we are not there yet. In the meantime, the ideas above can support the successful implementation of skill-based practices in individual teams, functions and organisations, and can help us build a more global skill-based ecosystem.
Dr Tanya Boyd Insights Discovery Learning Architect