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Digital badges: The new standard for skills verification

5 min read


This post is sponsored by NOCTI

Digital badges are gaining momentum as the new measure for validating competency and achievements, according to John Foster, president and CEO of NOCTI and Nocti Business Solutions. These digital certifications give students a new way to authenticate their skills for potential employers. SmartBrief talked with Foster about this growing trend and what digital badges can bring to career and technical education.

Have digital badges achieved buy in from employers—or is it still something of a new idea?

Digital badges, or “micro credentials” as some have begun to call them, are beginning to achieve buy-in from employers, though badges are still a fairly new idea to most people. From a big picture perspective, the standardization of an open badge infrastructure (OBI) created by Mozilla has been in existence for less than five years, so it isn’t surprising that the concept is only now starting to filter into public media. What is certain is that a number of NOCTI’s industry association partners have decided that they would like to move forward with a badging initiative of their own. These industry associations are representative of a collection of employers in several particular sectors. Examples include groups like the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Interest has also been expressed from federal agencies like the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition, there are several larger corporations that have incorporated badging for internal personnel recognition.

What do you think needs to happen for badges to gain credibility among employers?

Growth of any new concept depends on the number of people who adopt that concept and share it with others, and digital badges are no different. There has been a substantial growth of badge issuers on Mozilla web pages, which indicates additional interest. We have also noticed additional attention in the media, particularly over the last two years. What would be extremely helpful to moving the concept forward would be for a few “stars” to step forward. These are groups or individuals who take a concept and run with it and are willing to talk openly about their successes as well as challenges. We see this happening with a number of mayors in larger urban centers who have begun to embrace the “summer of learning” idea. These summer of learning projects are a collaboration of local governments, employers, and students who want to explore different career opportunities within the city and acquire badges from the employers for their involvement. Our own organization now offers badges in over 100 different occupational specialties. We believe that is only a matter of time before employers will start to ask about these credentials during the job interview process.

Are badges best suited to certain jobs and employment fields?

Part of the genius behind the digital badge concept is that learning occurs anytime and anywhere by anyone. It only makes sense then, that individuals should be able to capture the skills and competencies they’ve learned not only in an educational environment but also in other environments. NOCTI believes that badges can be formative as well as summative, meaning that they can recognize small skills and competencies as well as larger achievements. We also believe that these badges can cross multiple career clusters. For example, an individual could achieve recognition by obtaining an occupational credential in house construction or one could achieve a badge in a more focused area such as blueprint reading, hand tool usage or even measurement skills. So, in essence we believe that badges are well-suited to all jobs and all employment fields.

There is a movement among some colleges and universities to, in partnership with employers, standardize digital badges. Why is this necessary?

Standardization of badges within a college or university is something that we are starting to see. We are aware that several large educational software providers have started to market subscription services so that an entire faculty can have uniform access to badging. We have not seen direct collaboration between colleges and employers ourselves, but, assuming education’s goals, at any level are to provide individuals with skills to help them grow and prosper in a society, some standardization from a communication standpoint may be helpful.

How can technical preparation programs and employers work together to evangelize the benefits of digital badges?

The connection between career technical programs and employers is simple really; technical education programs deliver skills and competencies and badges are a credible transparent method of documenting those skills electronically. The more employers begin to recognize the power of digital badges and the more badges are requested from potential employees, the more quickly badges will grow and be recognized.

John Foster is president and CEO of NOCTI and Nocti Business Solutions, a Big Rapids, MI-based organization that provides industry-based credentials and partner industry certifications for career and technical education (CTE) programs.