According to a new OECD report, around 40 percent of employers in Europe and the United States struggle to identify, attract and retain skilled employees. That number jumps to more than 60 percent in India, Brazil and Turkey.

How can a training organization help solve this problem? To answer that question, IBM looked to gaming. Gamification has taken off and, with it, recognition in the form of merit badges. In 2011, the Mozilla Foundation developed a way to package information about accomplishments and embed it into portable image files as a digital badge: the Open Badge.

Last year, IBM launched the IBM Open Badge Program with activities that included MOOCs, public classes, recognition programs and certifications.

How it Works

Open Badges are digital emblems that symbolize skills and achievements. What makes Open Badges unique (and valuable) is the rich metadata with skills tags and accomplishments that the badge issuer embeds in them. That information always accompanies the badge, allowing anyone to verify the achievement.

Open Badges are easy to share on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogs. This capability is a significant benefit to the badge earner, who can build trust and social eminence. Companies can also improve their brand vitality with the social media impressions that Open Badges generate.

Immediate success

Our online training through provided a good test case for Open Badges. While the program had been a significant success, we wanted to attract more talent and improve completion rates. Within a few months of launching the Open Badges, we began to see benefits:

  • 125% increase in new participants
  • 226% increase in course completion rates
  • 694% increase in course exam pass rates
  • 64% increase in product trial downloads

The increase in product downloads was an eye-opener that showed us Open Badges can actually create a pipeline of leads.

Open Badges benefit every area of the business and everyone in the ecosystem, from the badge-issuing organization to the badge earner and the “consumer,” typically an employer or hiring manager. Let’s explore some of those benefits.

Social media impressions

IBM generates about 2.5 million social media impressions for every 10,000 badges we issue. That adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of viral social media marketing every year. More than demonstrating brand vitality, those impressions lead to a “me too!” effect, in which others want to earn badges to bolster their social eminence.

Loyalty and progression

Badges introduce a gamification element to an activity: Once you are on the leader board, you want to keep climbing the ladder. In IBM’s case, the average badge earner returns to earn three badges, and 87 percent say that the badges make them want to engage more often with IBM.

Mapping talent at the “nano” level

We can now map skills in more than 100 countries. When you issue badges for completing an activity, all of the badges for an individual flow into a consolidated badge system, regardless of registration system. The potential to develop deep insights has never been greater.

Social eminence for badge earners 

A LinkedIn study found that digital credentials increase profile views by 600 percent. Many organizations issue paper certificates or digital emblems in emails, which were probably viewed only by a handful of colleagues. Open Badges allow learners to broadcast their accomplishments with the click of a button. 

Links to real jobs and opportunities

IBM’s Open Badges display real-time job listings generated by the badge skills tags.  A tab in the individual’s badge wallet displays jobs, salaries, locations and job titles. Double-clicking takes the badge earner right to the job postings.

Deeper employee engagement

Open Badges motivate employees to drive their own development. According to a recent study from the Smarter Workforce Institute, the engagement levels of employees who receive recognition is three times higher than the levels of those who don’t.

Recruiting and hiring

Since they can be verified through metadata, Open Badges provide employers with a trustworthy credential.

An IBM case study illustrates these benefits. Coletta Teske had been out of the workforce for an extended amount of time. She earned a series of IBM Open Badges and shared them on social media to showcase her employability. Teske subsequently received an offer to consult as an information architect. 

Are Open Badges Mini-Certifications?

Because they can be used as micro-credentials, Open Badges are sometimes compared to certifications and seen as “mini-certifications.” However, badges provide a digital representation for a range of activities, like completing a course or developing an app.

Badges support certifications by making it easy for a candidate to get started without feeling overwhelmed by the daunting task of preparing for a certification exam. A quick study at IBM showed promise: When certification candidates completed badge activities to prep for the exam, their pass rates increased by 58 percent. 

Just a few years ago, most IT products were delivered on CDs on an 18- to 24-month cycle, accompanied by new certifications. With the advent of cloud delivery, product updates can be released on a 45-day cycle.

How can certifications keep up? Who is interested in taking a product certification every few months? And how can organizations afford to develop new certifications on that timeline?

Perhaps the answer is the T-skills model, in which certifications provide core, essential and foundational role-based knowledge for skills that have a longer shelf life. Badges can then be layered or stacked onto the certification to represent “liquid” skills in areas where technology is changing more frequently.

That model also provides new, added value to certifications, because learners can stack badges onto a core certification to represent a specialization or an advanced designation. Imagine the personalized credential programs you can develop with this model. 

Providing Unprecedented Opportunities

Just like Uber and Airbnb challenged the status quo in their industries, rapid changes in the IT space and the rise of social media have changed the credential arena. Open Badges provide benefits beyond traditional credentials because of their embedded, verifiable metadata and linkage to social media:

  • Rich social profiles help employees build a personal brand.
  • Transparency makes it easy for employers to verify skills and hire candidates.
  • Heat maps identify talent gaps and opportunities for growth.
  • Deeper engagement and progression build loyalty and advocacy.
  • Valuable social media impressions build the corporate brand.
  • Learners can enhance certification programs with micro-credentials.

You have the opportunity to lead and determine how Open Badges can help you achieve greatness. This is the technology disruption you have been waiting for.