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Training, education and jobs — the center of a skills-based talent marketplace

Advances in technology are reshaping entire industries, drastically changing the world of work. Some jobs will go away, while new ones are being created. But what stays the same is the need for every American to have a high-quality postsecondary credential to ensure a secure future.

That’s one of my takeaways from our recent Competency Frameworks convening, where Lumina hosted over 50 leaders for a conversation about the future of work, the role of competencies to create new pathways to credentials, and how to match those individuals to jobs.

Stuart Elliott of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine said society must act quickly to respond to the large numbers of people who will be displaced by new technologies that include artificial intelligence. Elliott researches the tasks that computers can perform, and recent findings suggest that machine reading has already surpassed the general literacy rate of the population. This means that machines can read with more accuracy and at a faster speed than most humans, leading to the automation of job tasks where there are limits on what humans can do. Advanced technologies are automating many of the rote tasks often performed by humans and changing the nature of work in America.

Gardner Carrick, vice president of the Manufacturing Institute, said lodging, health care and other areas of the economy can learn from what his sector has endured. Carrick was quick to remind the audience that the manufacturing industry has lost a million jobs since 2008 and that automation is on track to replace even more manufacturing jobs. However, this means that humans are needed to either operate, fix, or program machines and while there are fewer people working in manufacturing there’s a shortage of workers who can operate and service automated equipment. Businesses should be persuaded to commit to retraining people, Carrick said.

The panel painted a clear picture for the audience that many of the jobs that exist today will not be the jobs available in the next decade. We will be facing a very different future of work as automation impacts every industry. When asked about the impact of this type of disruption in the workforce, the panel members agreed that citizens with lower levels of education will struggle the most in the emerging economy. To access the jobs of the future, learning and credentialing beyond high school will become critical for every American.

“The focus of our work is to define what it means to be “future fit,”’ said Hope Clark of the Institute for the Future.

The Institute has produced a framework that outlines the competencies and skills needed to succeed as job functions change. Many leaders — from the military, higher education, employers, industry associations, and workforce agencies — are focused on using skills and competencies to make sure that people can get the credentials they need as the future of work is being redefined.

With this context in mind, the group dove in and shared how the learning opportunities they provide through higher education, work-based learning, apprenticeships, and military have all turned to a common approach to meet the demands for the future of work and open up new pathways that can serve millions more of Americans.

Competency-based learning

Not surprisingly, there’s a great deal of interest in how best to prepare the new workforce.

Lumina Foundation and others have promoted competency-based learning which emphasizes a focus on competencies in the design, delivery, and assessment of learning towards a credential. This approach allows pathways to credentials to be more flexible since individuals can progress based on the ability to demonstrate mastery of the skills, knowledge, and behaviors rather than the amount of time they have spent in a seat. Though Kate Kazin, a former English professor who is now managing partner of Volta Learning Group, said many in the academy are skeptical.

“The applied nature of competency-based learning and education sometimes gets lost in this frenzy,” she said. “(People say) ‘Oh, my God, higher-ed will become vocational school.’”

Kazin was on our Learning Forecast panel with competency-based education expert Deb Bushway and Susan Crystal-Mansour, vice president of program impact at the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

“Competency-based education refers to an entire program delivered as a whole,” Bushway said. “Learning can occur in a variety of ways. Competency mandates the integration of theory and the ability to apply that theory.”

The panelists agreed that demonstrated competence should determine credentials, not a course with a predetermined number of hours spent sitting in class. The essence of competency-based learning is that it doesn’t matter how or where the learning is acquired.

Consistency is required for competency-based learning to reach its potential, the panelists said. It’s vital that there be common definitions of terms and a shared understanding of the skills needed — so those skills can be acquired through various avenues and so employers can be confident when hiring workers.

“At the end of the day with competency-based learning, we all have to come to the same standard,” Crystal-Mansour said. Many industry standards already are consistent across international lines and a common competency language needs to be added.

Central to the concept of competency-based learning is the idea of portability: Skills should be transferable from position to position and from occupation to occupation.

“This is really about transferability of skills, regardless of what your aspirations are as a student or a learner, and regardless of the context in which you’re learning,” Kazin said.

“Agnostic” about where learning happens

Danette Howard, Lumina chief strategy officer and senior vice president, said learning should be rigorous, with clear pathways, engaged learners and meaningful outcomes.

“To realize our desired outcome of having all learning count toward a high-quality, postsecondary credential, conversations among such diverse parties will need to become less atypical and actually more commonplace,” Howard told the group, which represented a range of organizations that provide learning from higher education to industry to the military.

“We’re actually pretty agnostic about where or how learning happens. As long as that learning is of high quality, we don’t mind if that learning takes place at a liberal arts college, at a Goodwill Excel Center, or at another community partner. We find that learning takes place in the workplace, at a prison, at a community college, or at Ivy League institutions.”

Businesses must collaborate to grow talent

The business community has come to understand that it needs to be more active in training employees, said Jason Tyszko, who moderated the Technology Forecast discussion on managing competencies in the digital age.

“We can’t be in our silos any longer. It’s too risky to be in a silo,” he said. “We are the employer community, and we understand very clearly that we are in an economy that will increasingly rely on talent, which means business needs to be able to partner with all of you.

“This is not about complaining that we cannot find talent,” Tyszko said. “It is not about complaining that the talent is unqualified. It is not about saying that the governor should do something about it.

“It is about changing who we are and what we do and how we partner more effectively with everyone who is involved in the talent marketplace.”


Amber Garrison Duncan is a strategy director at Lumina Foundation where she leads a portfolio of work that supports the creation of a system where all learning can be validated and valued regardless of where it happens, and efficiently contribute to high-quality credentials.

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