Your employees participate in courses, offered by your organization or by an outside company or consultant. They complete projects, attend conferences, earn certifications and participate in lots of on-the-job training. As a training leader, how do you keep track of the various learning activities and learners’ success? How do the employees demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) in a meaningful way? Credentials, and digital credentials in particular, are one way. Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of Credly, describes them as being “really about creating greater liquidity for the currency of workforce skills.”

Innovators in Digital Credentials and Certifications

Along these lines, Degreed announced $42 million Series C funding this week, in part to “fuel commercialization of [its] newest product, Skill Certification,” according to the press release. Degreed’s new CEO and former chief operating officer, Chris McCarthy, says the product is a “natural, organic extension” of the company’s goal to fix the skills gap at an enterprise, rather than higher education, level.

“Everyone knows the skills gap is a problem,” he says, but most of the proposed solutions have been aimed at higher education. “But higher ed is only two, four, maybe six years of somebody’s learning, and increasingly disconnected from their career journey. We realized that in order to solve this problem, we had to partner with enterprise and work with learners in the context of their career, where they learn for 40, 50, 60 years.”

Skill Certification is an attempt to replicate the broad, “transactable currency” of a college or graduate degree at the enterprise level. Degreed is starting by validating employees’ skills within a specific business, but McCarthy says, “As we continue to get density across industries, those credentials will actually be portable even as individuals move from company to company.”

McCarthy says the new capital, which brings Degreed’s total funding to date to $75 million, will also help the company triple its pace of innovation, build global go-to-market capabilities, expand into new industries, and consider potential acquisitions. His vision is translating the best features of the most successful consumer web applications into an enterprise learning platform.

Credly is no stranger to digital credentials – they’re the company’s entire business. Last month, Credly and the American Council on Education (ACE) announced a $1.5 million grant from the Lumina Foundation to use portable digital credentials to recognize on-the-job training and apply it to college credit. “In other words,” says Finkelstein, they’re creating “a scalable approach to including structured data” about a learner’s KSAs and provide greater transparency around them.

Digital credentials, according to Finkelstein, “provide a common language or currency … in a standard space [and] interoperable format. Wherever you learn, wherever your skills are assessed,” the credential will provide “a rich set of information that lets everybody understand” the user’s achievements. Furthermore, Finkelstein anticipates that digital credentials will be a perfect use case for the increasingly trendy blockchain technology. By providing increased security to the credentials, he says, we will be able to “future-proof” and provide “additional integrity” to them.

The Business Impact of Credentials and Employee Recognition

Both McCarthy and Finkelstein say training is a competitive advantage from a recruitment standpoint. “Learning, and helping people build new skills,” says McCarthy, “really is the next ‘must-have’ benefit” people are expecting from employers. Finkelstein adds that when a company can say, “We are so committed to your ongoing learning [that] we are giving you portable currency in the form of a digital credential,” it makes them very appealing as an employer.

Finkelstein cites studies that have found that employee recognition boosts employee engagement, employee satisfaction and employee retention, which all translates into improved business. He points to a conclusion from the 2018 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition report, for example, which asserts that businesses “should treat employee recognition as not just a program, but a management practice that has very real business impact.”

“What is most meaningful to us,” McCarthy says, “is just how many really impressive people inside this industry are actually thinking differently and looking at how they can innovate and better serve their learners … We should celebrate the innovators in the space.” Whether those innovations are in digital credentials and competencies, enterprise and higher education partnerships, or new technologies like blockchain, there has, perhaps, never been a year like 2018 for training innovation.