Credentials Complement Skills

I had a discussion with a professor about a Skills Based Approach, something I hope you are familiar with by now (if not check out the website: www.skillsbasedapproach.com). I expressed why I think skill sets should be the focal point in career planning and development and the professor made a point worth further exploration: the impact of credentials.

A broad Wikipedia definition for a credential is: a “qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third-party”. In a purely professional context, credentials are degrees, certifications, licenses, and badges.

  • College degrees are the staple in summarizing a professional background, and currently have a major influence on your career path. However, professionals might find alternative approaches to learn skills because of the enormous cost of a college degree – it has almost doubled in the past ten years. There has been some policy discourse brewing on the high cost of a college degree, especially with public universities because they are partially funded by states[i]. Personally, I recommend supporting the movement of free online courses and finding ways to shorten a typical bachelor degree to less than four years – at least the number of years a student pays tuition. The ball has started rolling: you can get credits when you take the latest offering of free online courses (MOOC IIs). Colleges offering these free credits are betting that you will commit to taking their more advanced paid courses in the future.[ii]
  • Certifications are used to establish a proficiency and/or understanding of what is needed to conduct business in certain professions. With the rapid pace in the adoption of new technologies, professionals are required to learn new technologies by taking online course and then passing a certification test. Certifications are also widely used in accounting, finance, medical, and law professions.
  • Online badges are becoming increasingly relevant because Mozilla is pioneering the development of technology necessary to make them universally accepted. A powerful new feature of an online badge is a mechanism for a third-party to verify the credentials they issue. This will have a major influence in learning new skills because more educators can establish credibility; professionals can: choose to learn skills from a larger pool of educators, target certain professions or skills more precisely, and save a considerable amount of money.

Skill sets and credentials complement each other; in fact, with a Skills Based Approach, credentials might be the preferred way to validate skills (as suggested in the validation stage). A skill might have a one to one relationship with a credential; for example, a credential received for passing an online certification for ASP .Net validates the skill of web design (and sub-skill ASP .Net). Skills might have a many to one relationship with a credential; for example, a degree in business management validates basic skills of accounting, finance, marketing, and management.

I standby the assertion that all professionals should plan and develop their careers based on a skill set. I also think, as you build an expertise with skills, you should find ways to use credentials to validate your experience and knowledge with skills. Online badges will become the primary way to validate skills on all professional website services; we are currently waiting for the technology to catch up.


[i] Wessel, David. “Obama, Rubio Take On Colleges.” Wall Street Journal, 02/21/2013

[ii] Lewin, Tamar. “Public Universities to Offer Free Online Classes for Credit.” The New York Times, 01/23/2013

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