Start Building Skills

The cost of a college education is making aspiring professionals rethink whether a degree is a requirement for success. There are other options such as certifications, online courses(MOOCs), non-traditional degrees, apprenticeships, and online badges. Professionals who pursue a degree should consider how each course builds transferable or technical skills needed to reach career objectives – every course should have a purpose.

Skill Building
Here are some ways to build skills. They are not mutually exclusive, so you should consider how to use them for the most cost effective and efficient way to build skills needed for your career.

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: 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

Validating Your Skills

The final stage in a skills based approach is the validation stage; this is where you find ways to establish credibility with the skills in your skill set. You are already telling an audience you have these skills, now you want to prove or demonstrate your expertise with them. Why do you need to validate your skills? There are a few reasons: interested parties want to verify you can do what you say you can do; ways you validate skills often “set a bar” that can be used to compare your level of expertise with another professional; sometimes validation is a requirement for your responsibilities, such as a CPA certification in accounting; and validating through the use of an endorsement or reference can provide added context related to their experiences with you.

Why Validate Skills
Why Validate Skills

There are a number of ways you can validate a skill. First, you can provide a sample of work that demonstrates your expertise with a skill. Second, related to the first point, you can write and maintain a blog; this is a writing sample and shows you have insights and are keeping up with the most current ideas in your discipline. Third, you can provide a reference or endorsement who may be called upon to elaborate about their experience with you; LinkedIn built a sophisticated interface based on this type of validation. Fourth, you can obtain a certification or award from a third-party confirming your skill level. Finally, you can explain how you have applied a skill and share how many years of experience you have with a skill.

In the next series of blogs, I will discuss the effectiveness of the different ways to validate a skill and explain how to incorporate them with a professional website.

Badge Concept: Professional Website

Badges: ProfessionalWebsite
What a badge might look like

Professionals often have to verify their proficiency in a technology, language, or skill; we will refer to the presentation and validation of this proficiency as a “badge”. Visually speaking, a badge could be a background image with overlaying content about the proficiency and perhaps a link to a third-party verification.

A professional website currently promotes the presentation functionality of “badges”. The use of skills is already tightly woven into the framework of a professional website, along with particular IT skills, languages, and certifications – much of the content and linkages related to a “badge” are already in place. However, the validation integration has not been developed yet.

The validation integration would be similar to other web service verification applications. For example, the verification process that a website is secure. When you make an online purchase, you will often see a logo that says the webpage is secure (before you send your credit card information) – basically saying a third-party SSL certificate has been installed properly. Typically, this involves placing some JavaScript provided by the third-party verifier onto a website. Alternatively, in a simpler approach, the badge may just have a URL to the third-party verifier. In both implementations, a third-party company actively verifies the proficiency – making it a more reliable, standard verification.
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