The Four-Step Guide to Offering Meaningful Credentials
In today’s persistently tight job market, skills are the most valuable currency. The pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation accelerated demand for workers with specific qualifications, causing a shift from traditional degree-based hiring to processes more rooted in ability and experience. At the same time, digital transformation is intensifying across industries due to rapid developments in automation and AI, producing a dire skills gap that can cost workers opportunities as much as it can cost companies profits.
As skills-based hiring proliferates, many professionals are seeking out digital credentials to bolster their skillset and provide proof of their ability to potential employers. Not only that, these credentials are becoming a lucrative revenue stream for businesses, enabling them to open their doors and share their wisdom with a voracious audience of learners. It should come as no surprise that the market size is growing, as well; not only is the market cap for digital credentials expected to reach north of $5 billion by 2032, but recent research indicated that more than 1.7 million credentials were issued in the first half of 2022 alone, a 40% increase from the first half of 2021.
While many new companies are weighing the prospect of offering their own credentials, it takes hard work and careful planning for an organization to be recognized as an educator, no matter how well-known. To this end, digital credentials must be seen as more than just a product offering. By conferring credentials, a company will create a community of graduates, a network of alumni that can serve as ambassadors for the brand. But while these eager learners are ready to invest their time and resources into new skill certifications, it’s up to the organizations to make those credentials matter.
Here is a four-step guide to making credentials meaningful for learners:
- Identify your core offering
Unless your organization is already focused on education, training and/or professional development, your value proposition to customers is likely to be different from your value proposition to learners. That said, it’s somewhat similar to the process of identifying and developing a primary product.
First, ask yourself: What can we offer? A SaaS company, for example, may offer courses to certify expertise in its flagship product. Another technology company may provide certifications in coding and DevOps, because those subjects already align with the skills of their current employees, providing a strong foundation of knowledge for course development. Meanwhile, a consulting firm might offer courses in broader skills that can apply to multiple industries, like the basics of product management or SEO. All of these exist to meet the needs of a learner base looking to expand their skill set, but are offered in a way that plays to each organization’s unique strengths.
Next, ask, What sort of experts do I want my learners to become? Imagine someone has your company’s name followed by “certified” on their resume. What does this mean for them? Brand notoriety certainly plays a role, but it is the actual meat of the course itself, the specific knowledge that learners gain from it, that is most important in communicating value.
This is why offering a tangible credential is so crucial. Effective digital credentials will contain important metadata about the course completed, including key assignments, skill breakdowns and even the average salary for people who hold similar credentials. By clarifying ambiguities around a candidate’s breadth of expertise, recruiters can make more informed hiring decisions, and candidates can stand out from the crowd – and as learners find success, the value of your credential offering ascends.
- Create pathways for personalization
A credential marks the end of a journey – but also the beginning of another. When learners receive a certification or badge, they want to feel as though they’ve arrived upon a meaningful destination, one that will serve as the launchpad for the next step in their career.
Employing a micro-credential structure is one way to achieve this impact. By designing courses with multiple, micro-credentialed phases, offering skill-based badges that stack up to a larger certificate, you give learners the opportunity to pace themselves and find their own route to success. This structure helps learners visualize a path to career success and in turn, fosters a deeper connection between them and your company.
Depending on the platform used for credentials, your courses may automatically become part of an existing directory. Other learning organizations and companies also put together their own directories and roundups, so it’s important to leverage partnerships, marketing and public relations where necessary to amplify reach and expand learner pipelines.
- Teach the “soft skills”
The best jobs require more than just hard technical skills. People want to grow as leaders, collaborators, and creatives. By offering credentials in these “soft” skills, candidates will be able to express not only their technical expertise but also what makes them great coworkers. Developing a soft skill credential program opens the door for companies to leverage the unique experiences of their employees across divisions. For example, a course on being an effective communicator could be rooted in case studies from the sales team, while the HR department could help develop a certification in something like inclusive management.
That said, it isn’t enough to offer soft skill certifications alone. When shaping credential offerings, consider a twofold approach, one that accommodates both hard and soft skills, whether those are offered as separate certifications or interwoven in the same course. That way, learners can get a truly holistic experience that further raises the value of their new credentials.
- Establish a strong credential brand
Branding is also an important part of making credentials meaningful for recipients, as it’s the first thing a recruiter may see. When developing the look of your credentials, go with customizable, white-label digital credentials that place your brand front and center. Moreover, they should be easily shareable. Giving learners the ability to easily share their credentials on social media or embed them on a personal website, opens a new touchpoint with a potential audience: each new certified learner is a customer pipeline.
That said, maintaining alumni relationships can also boost your credential brand. If possible, offer alumni discounts on new credentials or special webinars – referral discounts are also lucrative, as they incentivize lead generation. If most of your certified learners are localized within a single city or region, consider hosting a networking event for them.
Most importantly, know that building a credentials brand, like building a company brand, is a long game – but with the right strategies in place, there is a much greater chance for success. Throughout the whole learner lifecycle, from discovery to graduation and beyond, strive to create a sense of pride and accomplishment among your alumni.
Becoming a trusted credentials provider requires a deep understanding of the best practices and strategies for implementing credentials. Even the most robust of courses will lose value if their associated credentials are insecure, easily fabricated and/or difficult to understand in terms of what skills they represent. Beyond that, no strategy is completely impervious to the challenges of the market – leaders must be ready to adapt to any challenges that come their way.
A few roadblocks to be wary of include:
- Security flaws: A digital credential is a valuable piece of information, and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, if these certifications are not properly secured, they can be stolen, misused, or compromised. Your credentials should offer bank-level encryption.
- Information gaps: Every credential should tell a story – what skills they gained, what lessons they learned, and how it can be used in the future. Without this key data, the value of the credential lessens, and recruiters and employers become more skeptical of the recipient’s qualifications.
- Viability: Credential offerings should be aligned not only with your company’s domains of expertise, but the demands of the job market. Ensure you’re providing genuinely useful skills – otherwise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a learner base.
Why It’s Worth It
It can be daunting to go from an ordinary company to a credentialing body. But these skill-specific credentials are becoming more valuable in the hiring market, making them critical to professionals’ growth and career development. College degrees provide a fantastic foundation, but as the digital transformation continues its march and jobs become increasingly technical, professionals of all ages and experience levels are seeking to fortify their qualifications with fresh, in-demand skills.
With the above tips in mind, if your company has the ability to offer meaningful credentials, now is the time to start building.
Written by Danny King.
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