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Open Skills Libraries Help Today’s Education and Training Providers Respond to the Recent Surge in Skills-based Hiring Practices

Transparancy with students is crucial for them to have successful educational journeys, develop their personal brand and stand out as potential employees.
Transparancy with students is crucial for them to have successful educational journeys, develop their personal brand and stand out as potential employees.

Over the past two years, we have seen the pandemic break down time-honored hiring conventions and accelerate new trends. Among these, many employers, particularly in IT and IT-related fields, have discontinued degree requirements and turned their attention to skills-based hiring and promotion practices. 

In response, credential-focused education and training providers across the United States are engaging in hard conversations around how to respond to this shift in demand, many embarking on the complex work of building a prospective skills-focused future into their programming offerings and student service strategies. 

How can open skills libraries bridge this gap?  

Among the biggest challenges faced by education providers seeking to denominate the value of their credentials, competencies or learning objectives in skills is the sheer complexity of the task. Many turn to off-the-shelf skills resources, such as the Open Skills taxonomy from Emsi/BurningGlass, LinkedIn’s Economic Graph or O*Net online, to support the difficult work of mapping curriculum to high-demand, high-value skills. Although these are very helpful tools to get a sense of demand across a broad range of employers, they lack the specificity and context needed to support the development of occupation-aligned learning outcomes or competency definitions. 

In response, Western Governors University and many other institutions, employers and professional organizations have committed substantial resources to building out robust libraries of Rich Skills Descriptors (RSDs) to serve their competency-based program, hiring and industry framework development needs.

This effort requires teams of qualified taxonomists, workforce researchers and subject matter experts who verify and write skills specifications against employer demand and contextualized occupational requirements. It is expensive, complex and never-ending, as these libraries require regular maintenance and updates to align with the ever-shifting nature of work and job requirements. 

At WGU, we are able to tag each of our competency assessments to RSDs, providing our students with a detailed view of every course and degree program we offer from a skills-demand perspective. Whether the course is U.S. History, Anatomy and Physiology or Cybersecurity, we seek to denominate value not only in credits but in skills-based employment currency. Learners are able to understand the relevancy of every educational experience they engage with on their way to a credential and are prepared to articulate their job-relevant knowledge and skills to current or future employers.

We believe transparency is critical for today’s students at every level of their educational journey, as they seek to build their personal brands and compete in today’s dynamic employment market. Without it we worry that, if supporting capabilities continue to be kept locked up in institutional silos, we will never get to a future where educational institutions of all sizes and resources can respond effectively to a skills-based hiring ecosystem and a future that fosters equity and economic growth for all.    

To help bridge this gap, WGU recently partnered with the Open Skills Network to launch a free and open skills library to the public featuring a foundational set of professional skills collections to support skills-based education and hiring practices. The WGU Skills Library has openly published collections for Business Ethics; Medical Assistant; Special Education; Value-Based Care; Information Systems Security; Character Education; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Social and Emotional Learning and Curriculum Instruction. Additional collections will be released quarterly over the course of this year. Ultimately, the WGU Skills library will be populated with thousands of defined skills to expand WGU’s investment in the future of a skills-based hiring and education ecosystem that supports equitable pathways to opportunities through open skills collaboration. 

With the philosophy of openness comes a commitment to feedback, improvement and inclusive participation. We plan to partner with other organizations to enhance and refine these skills libraries, align them with workforce needs and share them with other institutions and organizations as inputs to their own in-house collections. In this sense, our skills libraries will never be finished, instead they are a beginning from which to build, grow and improve collectively across educational institutions and employers, so the highest and greatest result can be achieved to benefit as many as possible. 

When fully realized, the vision of shared open libraries will provide a welcome assist to education and training providers looking to move toward skills and competency-based practices. For working learners, we hope that this effort will further encourage a world in which all individuals have the skills necessary to thrive in their communities and the ability to powerfully articulate the value of these skills to employers looking to identify talent, not only through the degrees they hold but by what they know and are able to do.

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