This Company Wants to Help You Hire for Skills, Not Credentials

Hiring & Recruiting

This Company Wants to Help You Hire for Skills, Not Credentials

By Tina Nazerian     Sep 26, 2017

This Company Wants to Help You Hire for Skills, Not Credentials

This article is part of the guide: EdSurge’s Guide to Landing a Job (or Finding the Perfect Candidate) .

The CEO of Degreed thinks answering the question “tell me about your education” with “I went to Wesleyan in 1997” is as absurd as answering the question “tell me about your health” with “I ran a marathon in 1997.”

“It’s not because marathons are bad, and it’s not because college is bad,” David Blake says. “It just simply reflects the fact that we are stuck in this paradigm that is incapable of answering with what we know and our lifelong education.”

That’s why Blake’s company, Degreed, started a service aimed at giving people a different way to show employers what they know. It’s called Degreed Skills Certification, and it scores people’s existing skills in various categories, including writing, sales, coaching, c# programming, photography and leadership. Blake calls it a “verifiable way” for people to certify their skills, regardless of how or where they developed them. Getting one skill certified will cost $99, and an unlimited membership will cost $399.

Blake says companies don’t know how to value, understand or contextualize work people do at their jobs. “At Degreed, we’ve kept all of that standard,” Blake says, explaining that being a level 4 in a particular skill at Intel would be the same thing as being a level 4 in that skill at eBay.

According to Blake, the process behind the scoring “is one of anonymous peer and expert review” based on “adaptive comparative judgement.” He says the method gets rid of many forms of bias, such as gender and age discrimination. Blake says people will be peer reviewed several times and will be reviewed by a panel of multiple experts. Machine learning and inter-rater reliability will “ensure consistency” and “confidence” in the reviews.

Any time that complex factors are boiled down to a single number, there’s always a chance for abuse if people try to game the system. Blake says that to counteract such concerns, Degreed will check people’s claims with coworkers or colleagues who will have to “sign their own name publicly to the claims made by the candidate.” This, he says, is to “ensure people are honest in the representations and evidence of their skills.” He says Degreed is also working with partners to bring plagiarism checks into the process.

The company says it is working with several employers and professional organizations who have agreed to consider the certification when filling jobs.

Blake contends he’s not making an argument “for or against” college degrees, but notes that higher education is facing rising tuition costs and demographic gaps in who completes degrees. “We are increasingly knowledge workers in a knowledge economy,” he explains. “And yet, historically you haven’t been able to tell me what you know.”

Sean Gallagher researches the future of university credentials at Northeastern University. He says degrees are still “the gold standard” in educational qualifications that employers seek.

Gallagher says there’s a narrative out there, “particularly from Silicon Valley and various startups,” to say that credentials don’t matter and that they have a way to disrupt hiring. Even so, Gallagher says, “there’s very little evidence that worldview is true.”

But Gallagher sees some movement toward skilled-based hiring versus “roughly or loosely” looking at a person’s educational credentials.

The degree is still highly valued, Gallagher believes, but in a world where you can document, measure and share information on competency online at scale, “that’s going to change ultimately the options that employers have and how they think about their hiring needs and their job specifications.”

Gallagher thinks that credentialing options like Degreed’s might someday complement the bachelor’s degree, and in certain fields and segments of the market, even replace it.

And Gallagher thinks the world of corporate learning and development is changing—employees are “kind of charged with owning their own development rather than the central corporate training offering.” That, he says, creates a need to capture and measure what people know regardless of how they learned it. Plus, these days there’s greater demand for employees with graduate level education, or some type of post-baccalaureate learning or credential.

Consider the master’s degree. Blake, the CEO of Degreed, says some people enroll in a master’s program to learn a new skill in order to enter a new field. But a lot of people also use that particular degree program to “reflect” their skills back to the market. He thinks his company’s new feature gives people who fall into the second category a way to show their skills without having to quit their job to enroll in a program and spend thousands of dollars.

Gallagher thinks Degreed is aiming for employers to hire people who are, for example, “Degreed Level 7” in a particular area based on actual measure of competency, rather than a person who says “‘I have completed a program so that means I’m a ‘Master of Business Administration.’”

When asked about the benefit of having a Degreed skill certification in photography as opposed to saying that you do and providing work samples of actual photos you’ve taken, Blake responded there is a “right scenario” for bringing forward work samples. He thinks portfolios play a “powerful role” but in a “very small spectrum of the process.” He says hiring managers can only “engage around a portfolio on a very limited number of people because it takes a lot of time.”

Juli Weber is the organizational development manager at Purch, which bills itself as a “digital platform that is driving the future of publishing and performance marketing.” Purch has been a client of Degreed for two years, and plans on “implementing and utilizing” the skills certification feature. She believes Degreed’s new feature will prove that skills exist, but says a certification from Degreed or a similar company won’t eliminate the need for job candidates to show work samples.

“We have that today,” she says. “I mean, the proof is in the pudding. We want to see the work.”

She says relying on a certification over a degree would be “a pretty big societal shift,” but adds that parts of the workforce are trending that way, like coding bootcamps for developers.

Degreed is the only company Gallagher has personally come across that is “positioning” its technology as a score. But he thinks the market space Degreed is operating will grow to other players—and a big question is what the role of larger technology firms like LinkedIn will be.

“Many of those technology firms also have an interest in this space,” Gallagher says. “Perhaps they'll develop competing products, maybe they'll acquire a company like Degreed. It's, I guess, impossible to predict, but it's an area that many people are watching."

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