Educators and administrators at Colorado Community College System recognized that local advanced manufacturing jobs were going unfilled despite the presence of qualified candidates graduating from their schools. In response, they developed a digital credential system focused on making key skills and competencies transparent and known to employers. It’s working.
When Superstorm Sandy struck the eastern seaboard in October 2012, electrical linemen who could repair downed powerlines were desperately needed to speed the region’s recovery, but painfully short in supply. Across the country, Brenda Perea knew that her school – the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) – graduated plenty of certified electrical linemen through several programs across CCCS.
Perea had the same sinking feeling a year later when she heard the Colorado governor discuss 15,000 unfilled jobs in advanced manufacturing within the state, predicted to grow to 45,000 unfilled jobs by 2015. Why so many unfilled jobs? Employers were struggling to find candidates with the competencies they needed – candidates Perea knew were in fact local. This time, Perea and CCCS had a plan.
With funding from the Colorado Helps Advanced Manufacturing Program U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration grant, Perea and her colleagues Katie Woodmansee and Jinnie Chieppo at CCCS developed a digital credential system that allowed them to make competencies and skills transparent and known to employers. CCCS listened to industry representatives who helped identify specific competencies required for success in advanced manufacturing. The team then located where in the CCCS curriculum their programs addressed those competencies and how these key outcomes could be most effectively communicated to local employers.
Focusing on Machining, Technical Math and Engineering Graphics, three sets of digital badges were developed to represent those competencies. Once a student masters the relevant portion of the curriculum, she is awarded a digital badge by CCCS through Credly, which verifies the competency based on a curriculum aligned to industry needs.
The work has resulted in significant efficiencies for employers seeking qualified employees. By searching for the credential online or by contacting the school directly, employers are expressing a clear preference for candidates with the verified skills sets that match their needs. The transparency, specificity and searchability of the digital badges have helped enhance the level of trust between local industry and CCCS. Today, job descriptions themselves have realigned to better reflect the metadata included on the badges!
Building on success, CCCS is hard at work on developing a series of badges to represent the competencies employers need to “upskill” their existing workforce. As current employees complete noncredit training through the Colorado First and Existing Industry (CFEI) program, digital badges will represent employees’ professional development and enhanced competencies. CFEI’s purpose is to provide essential skills re-training to the state’s workforce in order to retain Colorado companies that are facing technological challenges in maintaining their competitiveness and/or are in danger of downsizing or closing operations in the state.
From natural disaster to verified competencies that benefit both employer and employee, these digital credentials are making a significant impact on the manufacturing industry in Colorado, and defining a model replicable in other industries and other states.
Read more about the Colorado Community College System Badging Program at https://www.cccs.edu/education-services/badges/.