Two people with the same skills and abilities: one with a
qualification from a top-tier university and one without, will not always have the same opportunity in life. Much of that is due to a lack of measurement frameworks in skill assessment.
Ask the best talent experts why they favour people with qualifications from well-known institutions, and they’ll quickly tell you the answer: time. With 100s, if not 1000s, of applications for a single position, it’s impossible to give every CV even a minute to evaluate. So they take a proxy. And the best proxies they have today are lists of qualifications or companies you worked for in the past (CVs). Do they know they’re missing out on amazing talent? Of course they do. Would they like to access it?
Absolutely! But the current system doesn’t enable hiring managers to do so.
These conversations are part of a set of trends, changing how people think about skill assessment, which I’ll briefly outline below.
Skills over time
The first is that the average time for a skill to remain useful used to be more than ten years.
It is now four in 2023, down from five in 2017. It will soon be quicker than the time it takes to complete a degree.
If the "assessment" of a skill (the degree) takes longer than the period that skill remains relevant in the first place, the assessment is clearly failing.
The second is that interest in “micro-credentials” has risen dramatically.
A short-term solution to "shorten" the time it takes to obtain a qualification, counteracting the previously stated impact of declining skill relevance. It acknowledges the problem and pushes it further into the future (until the lifetime of skills decreases even further), but it does not truly solve it.
Third, shifts towards remote and hybrid work increase requirements for assessment based on outputs & outcomes over inputs. Without the ability to measure the actual time someone puts into the development of a skill (sitting at the office, or in a classroom), the only measurement available is based on what the person is able to *do*. Although this has been part of assessment for a long time, qualifications often still include some portion of “attendance” or “input” measures. In today’s world, that’s no longer tenable and often impossible.
Finally, many of the skills valued today will become far less valuable in the future. Those that are most likely to hold value are the ability to collaborate, the ability to learn and the ability to solve problems
(details here). As the type of valuable skills changes, old assessment models will have to adapt to new realities.
The Future of Skill Assessment
So where does this leave us for the future of skill assessment?
“The future is already here, just not evenly distributed” -
What software engineering can teach us
Over the last 10 years, software engineering has arguably been the world’s fastest-changing industry, where skills become obsolete quickly, and workers continually learn to stay relevant. As the industry has lived with this reality for a while, it provides a glimpse into the future of what skills assessment might look like everywhere else.
The amountof libraries and tools software engineers have to know and be aware of every day is staggering. Below is a graph of the number of “npm modules”(libraries that provide certain capabilities which software engineers can use to build apps):
source: Source: http://www.modulecounts.com/
More than TWO MILLION modules exist, performing a variety of tasks software engineers can leverage at any point. And that is just one 1 development environment (node.js). Just like a suite of AI tools will soon perform many of the tasks currently part of your job, these
libraries already do the same for developers every single day. So if youwant to understand what the future of work looks like, software
engineering provides a key window into what that might look like.
To top off, software engineering has always led on remote work and output-based assessment. GitHub & StackOverflow profiles have long held more weight in engineering CVs than qualifications, and coding tests are the norm in interviews, not the exception.
These profiles constitute portfolios of work (code written by a candidate in the case of GitHub, or sets of questions & answers in the case of StackOverflow) that provide real insight into the results someone is actually producing and what they’re capable of.
In a world that’s finding a new balance between in-person and remote work, software engineering has, again, been living in that future for a while.
If software engineering presents so many traits the rest of
the world is about to experience, it holds to reason their approach to
skill assessment has a lot to tell us about the assessment models most appropriate for that type of environment.
So what does all of this tell us about the future of skill assessment outside of software engineering?
A portfolio approach to skill assessment
The reasons software engineering has (mostly) switched to portfolio-style assessments are many. A portfolio provides you with many signals of someone’s work that a CV does not.
The actual work someone has delivered (attribution)
How they’ve evolved over time (learning)
How they’re valued by their peers (collaboration)
The results they’ve produced (outcomes)
The problems they’ve solved (problem-solving)
And the frequency with which they solved them (output)
But beyond the above, a portfolio is simply much more grounded in reality. It measures what someone has actually delivered, the problems they’ve actually solved and the impact they’ve actually had instead of signalling they passed a test at any particular point in
time, or held down a position for whatever reason that might have been. A portfolio-style assessment is much more inclusive, accurate and fair, all at the same time.
What will this look like?
Software engineering is a job that produces quite a few artefacts that are easilyassessed. Not all jobs are like that, and portfolios won’t look the same for all of them. So what should they look like?
Combining the idea of a portfolio of work with the skills that hold the most value in the future (collaboration, learning & problem-solving), you start with something indicating a level of skill in each area, like the below:
… combine it with an indication of how actively the person has been developing
… and top it off with an indication of both the industries and the functions the person has demonstrated their skills in.
What information will feed into these portfolios?
The above, however, is only a top-level representation of someone’s skill profile. It only derives its credibility from the data that powers it. Just like the power of a GitHub profile is the transparency it provides on code contributions, there should be a way to interrogate the underlying data of our proposed portfolio.
The data powering work portfolios will likely evolve, as technology advances and our ways of interacting with each other and with content change. As a starting point, the data powering a strong portfolio for most knowledge-intensive jobs could be composed of elements of the following:
Questions, answers and discussion with others, evaluations of those interactions by others, active sharing of information, signs of empathy and healthy consideration of other viewpoints, etc
Staying up-to-date with what’s new in your industry, regular engagementin best practices, drawing links between topics, demonstrating criticalthinking, the evolution of topics covered, willingness to engage in discussion, etc
Problem-solving: Providing answers to problems, proof points of finished works, testimonials, written thought pieces, case studies, etc
And providing access to these individual pieces of data (as well as how they contribute to the overall picture) will be key in making the
portfolio a useful tool for both employers and employees to evaluate andshowcase skills.
Note: obviously, the level of privacy offered is important here, and
control should always be in the hands of the individual, who can decide to show (or not) a specific level of detail.
How does this get captured?
This is all good, but you are wondering how one could ever be able to assess people in a way that would effectively result in the above.
The beauty is you don’t. Portfolios aren’t assessed like qualifications are.They capture the evidence of what a person has actually done so that employers can make their own assessments of their skills. A GitHub or StackOverflow profile doesn’t get “constructed” in the same way a CV does. Instead, they are built over time, by simply registering activity as and when it happens. And the same needs to be true for other assessments in the future.
The “quantified self” movement popularised a wave of gadgets and apps to capture our everyday health metrics, and a similar wave is about to hit our everyday learning & productivity. Instead of getting a qualification, your everyday actions around collaboration, learning and problem-solving will be quantified in ways that build up the profiles outlined above. Various platforms such as Degreed, Readocracy, Continuum (and soon Mindstone) already do this, and the future will only make this more prevalent.
Will it be perfect? Of course not. But skill assessment never is. The future of skill assessment isn’t competing against perfection, it’s competing against outdated qualifications and CVs that tell you little about a person’s true abilities in the first place.
A blueprint for better skill assessment
The way we assess skills today is broken. Not only do they focus on the wrong ones, but the entire mechanism of signalling skill through qualifications is simply no longer fit for purpose.
The best talent experts know that favouring people with qualifications from well-known institutions isn't the best approach, and they'll quickly bite your arm off for a better alternative. Combined with the rapid shift in skills valued in the workforce, a new approach to skill assessment is needed.
Changing the way skill assessment operates will unlock tremendous opportunities for people all over the world, while at the same time providing access to better talent for companies. We no longer will have the need to compare two people based on where they got their qualifications, but rather on the quality of the skills they're able to show. The blueprint exists. It’s time to build.