Education: What if finding your career was as easy as finding lunch?

Indiana Office of Tourism Development

By Amber Garrison Duncan

In Indianapolis, where Lumina Foundation is based, the historic City Market houses all kinds of places to grab a bite. From burgers to crepes to falafel, you can find it here.

The market opened in the city center in 1886 with a simple idea: a tempting variety of produce and other goods, items easily visible, prices posted. For more than a hundred years the winning formula stayed roughly the same — food, easily found.

And now the market is online, too. Information from my favorite lunch vendors is on platforms like DoorDash and GrubHub. I can search menus, price ranges, even delivery options; it’s a market updated for utmost convenience, using the amazing power of the supercomputers in our pockets.

We ought to do the same to help jobseekers. What if people looking for work — or schools offering training, or companies looking for talent — had such a searchable, easy-to-use system — an online market for workplace credentials and competencies?

It would be a huge improvement. Our present system is disorganized and fragmented. It’s hard to navigate because three different groups — jobseekers, employers, and credential providers (schools) — are all trying to talk to each other, often without success.

We have to do better — and thanks to the same technology that can find your next falafel, we can. But to work together well, the primary actors in this job and credential market need:

- A commonly defined currency. While all the actors are focused on competencies and credentials, each uses different definitions.

- Data and technology systems that can work together and share information.

- Advanced technologies such as machine reading that can make more connections. While these technologies hold high potential for automating and connecting data, they’re being tested at just a few employers or institutions.

There hasn’t been a place where this cross-sector community could meet to define opportunities and test them more broadly. This limits the potential impact to an elite set of providers, rather than systems that can serve millions of people.

There’s been progress, sure. And I’m convinced that we’ll someday have a credential market that will make career searches as easy as finding a good place for lunch. That’s what Lumina and others are working toward — building the infrastructure for scaled technology and data across the array of credential providers.

I’m glad to report some real progress. For example, the Credential Engine organization has created a credential description language that allows all providers to describe the credentials they offer in common terms and to share this information publicly.

In the area of digital learner records, we have several projects to help credential providers transform the traditional transcript. The goal is to move away from the classic transcript — a list of courses and grades on a piece of paper — to a digital record showing what a student has actually learned — the competencies he or she has developed. Ideally, this learning will be documented in a standard format, creating a competency-based record that the student will own and can be shared across all providers. Such records would include everything from micro-credentials such as badges, to macro-credentials such as degrees.

Employers have a role, too. The Job Data Exchange, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, is creating a common job description language that can help employers signal their hiring needs to educators and workforce development officials across the country.

Linking much of this work is the T3 Innovation Network, launched this year by Lumina and the Chamber Foundation. The plan is to create a community where technology vendors, employers, education and training providers, students, workers, and data scientists can build the infrastructure we need.

There’s plenty left to do, but you can see the outline taking shape already. And to understand the possible, you don’t have to look too far. The time is coming when our online menus will serve up more than food. They’ll serve up opportunity.

Today's Students / Tomorrow's Talent

Preparing today's students to thrive in tomorrow's world

Amber GarrisonDuncan

Written by

Strategy director at Lumina Foundation leading work to create a system of high quality credentials where all learning can count.

Today's Students / Tomorrow's Talent

Preparing today's students to thrive in tomorrow's world