If you’re in the hiring sphere, you’ve no doubt been hearing a lot about digital badges. They’re becoming increasingly common as the cost of college rises and people more frequently pursue new careers mid-life.
So what are they? Essentially, a digital badge is proof of a demonstrated skill. If you want to prove you’re an expert in Photoshop, you can earn a badge that will back you up. But, the ins and outs, the benefits and detriments are a little more complicated. Here are the five things you need to know about digital badges.
What is a digital badge?
A digital badge is a verifiable indication of a demonstrated skill. Unlike a certification, there isn’t a necessary learning period required before earning a digital badge. If, for example, you have experience assembling your company newsletter with MailChimp, then you might be able to test for and achieve a MailChimp digital badge.
They are increasingly becoming used in education as micro-credentials, to certify the valuable skills students have learned along the way to their degree. At many institutions, badges are stackable, meaning that as they’re earned, the credentials can be credited toward an advanced badge or degree.
In the workplace, badges exist as proof of obtained knowledge or skill, allowing an existing employee to be considered for a new opportunity or for a candidate who lacks traditional educational requirements to be considered equally among other applicants for the same position. They are motivating to employees, a signal of reskilling, upskilling and employees keeping their skills current. They are portable, so employees can share them with whomever they want and bring them with them from school or training programs to employers. No longer do your employees not have proof of training within your organization or from outside your organization.
How do they work?
A digital badge shows that you took the time and initiative to gain competency over a skill. You can use it to signal that you already know something, but that is a small percentage of badges. Most are for signalling an achievement.
The purpose of gaining a badge isn’t to master a skill or learning something new—that would be more along the lines of a certification course. A digital badge is proof that you know something.
Resumes, both intentionally and not, are plagued with uncertainty and downright falsehoods. Someone listing a prior education doesn’t demonstrate what they learned there. They can list things in their skill section but how can you verify they’re as skilled as they say they are? And, unfortunately, nearly a third of all employees admit to having lied on their resume.
Badges remove uncertainty. Many badges are certified by credible organizations and it’s nearly impossible to lie about having one because they are embedded with verifiable and secure metadata, structured data within the data detailing the skills demonstrated and the context of the learning.
Why do badges matter?
Only 33% of Americans continue to college after high school, and even getting a foot in the door for a high-salary job almost always requires a four-year degree. But a degree is not the end-all, be-all to education. Even if an applicant has a degree from Harvard, all you know about their time there is that they attended Harvard.
Education matters. Digital badges place the focus where it belongs—not on where you learned, but what you learned. Badges increase opportunities by leveling the playing field for more people and provide achievement for more and different types of learning situations and contexts. Badges matter because they provide people without access to higher education a chance to show that they have the same skills and are capable of learning to the same degree that educated people are. They even the playing field and provide a more equitable landscape for disadvantaged applicants. Best of all, everyone, with or without a college degree, can benefit from the advantages of earning and sharing verifiable achievements with digital badges.
Is a badge a substitute for a resume?
Providing a link to your digital portfolio or backpack on your resume will make you more visible to potential employers and show what you know, especially if you don’t have a formal education.
More and more employers are beginning to accept badges as educational experience. The reason for this is a combination of things: the rising cost and inaccessibility to college educations and the oncoming skills gap among them. Employers know they need to start thinking outside the box when it comes to hiring talent, and they’re becoming increasingly willing to do so.
Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and Google are no longer requiring a college degree for around 50% of their jobs. So, what can an employer use as a verified signal of employability if they aren’t looking for college degrees? Digital credentials like digital badges, micro-credentials and nano-credentials.
Will badges completely substitute for a resume? Not yet, at least, but for many companies badges are great signals of employability and verified ability when a formal education is missing.
Is there a downside?
There are positives and negatives to everything in life.
Most crucially, there will always be some employers who just don’t take badges seriously, for whatever reason.
None of these factors is a mark against digital badges. When used as part of a comprehensive hiring and learning strategy, I highly recommend them, for both companies and job seekers. They show a dedication to hard work and verified demonstration of skills on the behalf of the badge earner and thoughtfulness for employee education and betterment on the part of the employer. All around, digital badges are a good investment of time and will potentially revolutionize the future of educational credentials.