The American workforce statistics may be starting their slow climb out of the pandemic. The unemployment rate, for example, has fallen to 3.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there’s still a labor shortage, and states are looking to make sure their workforces are truly competitive.

As states struggle to keep pace with the economy, some of them are now turning to K-12 credential transparency, in the hopes that it will show them how to give their workforces the leg up.

Four states—Ohio, Alabama, Indiana and Colorado—have announced that they’re now joining a growing list of states working with the nonprofit Credential Engine to enter their K-12 credentials and competencies into the Credential Registry, a platform that allows prospective students to compare degrees and credentials side by side.

Scott Cheney, CEO of Credential Engine, emphasizes that the increased information is meant to help people adjust their career decisions in real time, which is vital in a fast-moving economy. It should also allow employers to be more specific about what they’re looking for from workers, he says.

Clarity for States?

The states are betting that mapping out the digital credentials will provide officials and educators with clarity into the education-to-job pipeline, which may help them ensure that they train enough people with the right skills to meet employer demand.

Some states working with the company have committed to equip 65 percent of their workforce with at least one postsecondary credential by 2025.

“Credential quality and transparency are vital for developing competency-based career pathways that lead to in-demand occupations for all Alabamians,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a public statement.

While some states are building up general capacity, others have specific careers in mind.

Cheryl Rice, a vice chancellor at the Ohio Department of Higher Education, said in a public statement that she hopes working with Credential Engine will allow Ohio leaders to lay out paths to cybersecurity jobs, an area where they expect there to be a continued demand for workers.

Larger Significance

The work has significance outside of these states, Credential Engine says, as places across the country push to map out how credentials interact with jobs to keep up with the fast-moving American economy. Credential Engine observes that most jobs today require education beyond a high school diploma, and that states that want to equip their residents for those jobs will have to make their education-to-job pipelines more responsive to the needs of employers and learners.

Roughly half of states are working with the nonprofit to do that right now, Cheney says.

“We’re really going to have cradle-to-career credential information that’s available for states to build better tools to help people navigate their opportunities,” he says.

The industry as a whole is in a very nascent stage of exploring the potential of digital credentials, but there are a few initiatives that are looking into the transformational power of digital credentials, Joshua Marks, a senior advisor at Public Consulting Group, says. There are some challenges, but Marks says he expects this work to get traction over the next couple of years.

Other digital credential experts agree.

Tracy Korsmo, enterprise architect for the Statewide Longitudinal Data System and a business intelligence program manager for North Dakota Information Technology, says he thinks that digital credentials are shifting the employment pipeline to more greatly value learning and skills. North Dakota is one of the states that’s working to build up digital credential capacity.

Human capital is what actually matters in the world, Taylor Kendal, president of the nonprofit Learning Economy Foundation, says. Hopefully, he adds, digital credentials will start to show educators exactly why what they’re doing matters.

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