by Lisa Thompson

In the United States, there are currently thousands of credit and noncredit workplace credentials that you can earn. This can be confusing for students trying to figure out which credential to work toward, for institutions trying to offer the appropriate training for students, and for businesses trying to compare qualifications between job candidates. You also cannot transfer many of these credentials. This means a credential earned at one institution or in a different state may not be accepted elsewhere. To address this, ACT, Inc. is recommending that the nation shift to a national workforce credentialing system.


Creating a National System

In their recently released Breaking New Ground report (395K, .pdf), ACT breaks down the key components needed in a national credentialing system:


  • Use of common language so that the credentials and the skills needed for those credentials are more easily understood.
  • Make credentials portable nationwide.
  • Create credential standards driven by employers who understand first-hand which skills, competencies, and industry standards are needed.
  • Develop a framework for quantifying the skills and competencies of workers who may have very different levels of workplace readiness.


Such a system would allow specific local and regional labor market demands to be met by reducing uncertainty while providing flexibility. It also would allow layered credentialing tied to career pathways. This means the skills build on each other, beginning with basic foundational skills and then becoming more focused with industry-specific skills and job-specific skills.


The Role of Community and Technical Colleges

Two-year colleges are the core source of training for many of the careers requiring a credential. In Minnesota, public community and technical colleges enrolled nearly 40 percent of all undergraduates in the 2009-2010 academic year. This is mirrored nationwide.


Clarifying the credentialing system will allow two-year institutions to better prepare their students to succeed in the workplace. It would provide greater potential mobility. Students and workers would be able to move to where the jobs because their credentials are portable. It would also allow credentials to be transferred between jobs and careers, increasing employability and career advancement. This is especially important for students of color who not only represent an increasing segment of the college-going population, but are also more likely to attend a two-year college than a four-year college.


Community and technical colleges are also in a unique position to respond to local labor market needs. They can work with the local business community to tailor their training to address changing skills requirements, the training needs of dislocated workers, and short- and long-term labor shortages. This proves flexibility and allows the colleges to respond nimbly to changes in the labor market.


Navigating the Current System

Even if institutions, business, and industry and labor organizations have the will to change the current credentialing system, it will take time. So what can you—a student or job seeker—do now to navigate through the current system? Do your research:


  1. Take a skills assessment and interest assessment to discover your strengths and interests.
  2. Research careers that match your skills and interests. If you’d like to see how your current skills might transfer to other careers, check out mySkills myFuture.
  3. Research your education options for the careers that interest you. Or search for certifications connected to specific careers.
  4. Learn how to pay for your education.


2 thoughts on “Do we need a national workforce credentialing system?

  1. Exactly. This, in turn, helps institutions developed training programs to prepare students. Transferability across states would also be extremely beneficial since we live in an increasingly mobile society.


  2. Well, having a national qualifications framework, like that used in Australia,  England or Ireland creates a  methodology that allows different  types of credentials and different types of training programs to be "slotted in at various levels.  It does help create a common language and a common understanding of the competencies one can expect an individual to demonstrate at each level of the system


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