Trending ideas in professionalization and workforce development

A guest post from LINGOs CEO Chris Proulx

“We need to build the 21st century workforce.”

Variations on this quote are currently uttered daily by politicians, CEOs of major corporations, local economic development advocates and NGO leaders and others in the social sector. When you probe a ittle more deeply, you realize that not everyone means the same thing. Politicians and advocates may be concerned with the chronic and growing un- and under-employment of certain demographics and sectors of the economy—many of whom lack the skills and expertise that are increasingly in demand by the knowledge economy. However, organizational leaders from all sectors more often are lamenting that the skills of their existing employees are no longer suited to the disruptive changes facing their organziations and/or their sector-at-large. In reality, in both cases, the pace of change in the economy is outpacing the ability of many people to re-skill and re-tool.
Setting aside the discussion of specific skills and competencies, which may vary from industry to industry, we can look at some of the trends and current approaches for addressing this problem.


Co-creation among networks and collaborators

The task of creating the new workforce is larger than any one entity can take on alone. Increasingly networks of organizations and in some cases, networks of networks are coming togteher to create new programs and frameworks. The models vary depending on the sector, but the theme of collaboration is the same. In some cases, these may be content-development and program delivery initiatives, and in other cases they may be an effort to agree on future competencies and credentials for which any employer or training provider may align their programing to ensure a workforce with the appropriate skills.

The Africa Skills Initiative, a project of the World Economic Forum Africa, is bringing together several multi-national corporations as well as government and education providers to build the workforce to sustain the economic growth of Africa. The large multi-nationals that are involved all have come to realize that they alone cannot solve the complex challenges that contributing to the lack of skilled workers that are slowing their economic growth.

Several organizations in the humanitarian and relief sector are about to embark on the creation of a Humanitarian Passport. The goal is to define the set of competencies for tomorrow’s humanitarian worker and emergency responder. With the size, number, and frequency of disaster (natural and man-made) increasing, the availability and skills of existing responders can’t keep up—and is outstretching what any one NGO or governmental agency can train on their own. The Humanitarian Passport will provide a map to employers, employees, and training providers for where to put their emphasis in terms of future skill development.

Micro-sized and skills-based credential formats

Another, and well-documented, trend is the move toward newer credentials that are designed around specific skill sets and most often provide recognition upon completion of shorter programs of learning. Employers are looking for more concrete evidence that an employee will be able to perform a specific skill on-the-job rather than having completed a come comprehensive course of study. The trend toward more micro credentials is growing despite continued evidence that completion of at least one college degree is still critical for career advancement and upward income mobility. There is not yet enough evidence of the impact of these micro credentials on employability and incomes.

The “nanodegree” from Udacity provides targeted training and credentials around specific software development skills. The program acknowledges that employers in the tech industry needed more people with skills in specific and emerging development languages and frameworks. The program combined content expertise from many different employers, who like the examples above recognized the need to to pool their efforts at training the next workforce while acknowledging that traditional universities were not always getting the job done.

The TechBac project by City and Guilds in the UK is another example where a new approach to credentials and qualifications is blending traditional training with proven skills, all backed by new digital technologies. It uses Digital Badges, provides for an online CV of skills and qualifications, and uses rich analytics to track performance and effectiveness.

Certifications like PMD Pro are an example of an example of the aligning of targeted functional skills (in this case project management) with development and humanitarian sector-specific concepts, language, and tools (in this case, development and humanitarian work.) By aligning these two, the result is a more targeted and relevant credential that be provide opportunities to quickly up skill existing employees in the sector or create pathways for new sector entrants.

Tools for employee-driven control

Technology is now providing more tools for employees to demonstrate the full spectrum of their learning and professional development and its alignment with specific competency development goals. Until just a few years ago, the tracking of education and training was the domain of the employer or an academic institution; and it usually tracked only the most formal learning experiences. For the employee, there were few tools to set goals, select and track certain learning, and then promote it to potential new employers—across their entire career with portability.

The most obvious tool that has gained massive scale in LinkedIn. The ability to track not only your employment experiences but your educational experiences, certifications, and achievements and awards is changing how employees are able to track and promote their employability. While better than a resume—with the ability to find people with similar experiences and education—LinkedIn is still limited in its ability to help people map their education to potential new career paths.

Degreed is a new could-based platform for individuals and organizations that connects employees to a much broader range of formal and informal learning experiences. The system also ranks each provider and course experience which provides additional options for employees to choose and for employers to evaluate the relevance and validity of certain educational experiences.

Earlier this month, I also got an early peek at a new tool, Red Panda, that will take what Degreed is doing to the next level. Employees will be able to set specific career goals and/or even align their goals to published competency framework. It is built on the OKR model and extends the model to professional development with opportunities for peer assessment. With Red Panda, the employee will be able to find, access, and track relevant learning—from articles to videos to formal courses and more—all targeted and aligned to their professional goals.

How is your organization approaching the skills gap you may be facing? What types of collaborative efforts are you engaged in? What types of credentials are you recruiting for? or encouraging your employees to achieve? Do you feel that you have the right digital tools to take your efforts to a new level? No organization is immune from the challenges and can take a holistic approach on their own, so now’s time to find new ways to work together.

Learn more about our latest initiative in the NGO sector to set new skills standards and get involved.


2 thoughts on “Trending ideas in professionalization and workforce development

  1. Does Red Panda have a website? I tried Googling and most of my results were (admittedly adorable) photos of red pandas.

    1. Hi Julie, it’s still in “secret” mode. If you email me at, I can connect you with the project team. I had the same experience of finding lots of adorable pics until I realized that the site is not yet fully published. Thanks!

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