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Skills-Based Hiring: The Life of a Credential

By Joey Lehrman


Skills-based hiring (SBH) is a new way companies are hiring people. Instead of looking at someone's education or past jobs, they focus on what skills a person has. But how exactly does that work?

While resumes, interviews, and references have long been the cornerstones of hiring practices, they often overlook the richness of a candidate's diverse experiences and abilities. These traditional methods can sometimes create a narrow view, favoring conventional paths (like college degrees) over unique skill sets. 

SBH recognizes that people learn and develop skills in many ways - through school, work, volunteering, and in the military. In most hiring systems, only certain types of learning and credentials can be considered, like a college degree or official license. Advocates of SBH want to change this by using technology that can look at all the ways a person has learned, better showcasing the different skills they can bring to a job. 

In this new era, skills are like currency – the more relevant skills a person has, the more valuable they are to employers. This shift is largely enabled by digital credentials which help in better showcasing the full range of skills and experiences candidates can bring to a job. 

To explore what SBH can mean for students, educators, and companies, this blog post will look at what digital credentials are and why these tools could be instrumental in creating a more inclusive workforce system for everyone.

Part 1: The Purpose of Creating Digital Credentials

Let's look at the construction industry as an example to better understand what a skills-first hiring process could look like. 

Imagine there’s a company, ABC Construction, who needs to hire new staff who are skilled in areas like safety practices, using tools, and understanding construction math. The key challenge for ABC Construction is determining whether applicants possess these essential construction skills.

During the hiring process, companies usually look at resumes and do interviews to decide who to hire. But these methods might not always show if someone really has the skills needed. Resumes might not list all the skills a person has, interviews might not ask about the right kind of skills, and references might not give the full picture of what someone can do.

That's where new ways of hiring come in, using something called digital credentials. These are digital records that can clearly show what skills someone has and how they match with what a job needs. They're made using new types of data structures that help link together the credential, the skills it represents, and what the job requires. This means when a credential shows someone has certain skills, it gives a clearer idea of whether they're ready for the job. Even regular credentials, like a college degree, can be issued as a digital credential and include information about specific skills, making them more useful in today's job market where skills are more important than ever.

This approach essentially turns skills into a measurable currency, with digital credentials acting as the evidence of a person's abilities. So ABC Construction, instead of only reviewing a resume and conducting an interview, can now look for applicants that have earned specific credentials that include the skills they need: candidates that understand safety knowledge, how to use tools, and construction math.

Part 2: The Process of Creating a Credential

To build a credential, ABC Construction can partner with an organization like the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). NCCER collaborates with companies to figure out which skills are important for different jobs and then provides tests to assess these skills.

Together, ABC and NCCER could use something like the NCCER Core Certificate. This credential is specially made to test for skills that are important in construction, like knowing about safety, how to use tools, and understanding construction math. Job seekers can take this test to show they have these skills.

This credential includes all the detailed information about these skills, so it becomes a really useful tool for businesses to find the right people to hire. ABC Construction decides to include the NCCER Core credential in their hiring process and choose to hire only those people who have passed this test and earned the credential to show that they have the necessary skills.

Part 3: A Job Seeker's Path to Finding the Right Credential

Now meet Georgia, who is currently working part-time and is looking to switch to a full-time job. She signs up for an adult education program to gain new skills that can lead to better job opportunities. With advice from a career navigator, she decides to pursue a career in construction. 

Together with her career navigator, Georgia searches online for job openings and notices that local companies, ABC Construction included, are looking for candidates who have at least a high school diploma and the NCCER Core credential.

Georgia and her career advisor take a closer look at the NCCER Core credential. They find out that it focuses on essential skills like safety knowledge, how to use tools, and construction math.

For Georgia, realizing she needs these skills is a crucial step. It helps her understand what she should learn to earn the credential and qualify for a job like the one at ABC Construction. Now, Georgia can choose classes wisely and use her time and money efficiently while enrolled in school.

Part 4: A Job Seeker's Journey to Earning a Credential

Georgia sets the goal of earning a high school equivalency diploma while co-enrolling in an NCCER program at a nearby community college. The college's courses match the requirements for the NCCER credential, meaning everything Georgia learns is designed to help her pass the NCCER test. So as we’ve seen, the program will focus its curriculum on specific areas such as safety knowledge, how to use tools, and construction math.

As she takes classes, Georgia knows she's making a smart investment of her time and money since she's aware that local employers are looking for people who have earned the NCCER credential.

After a few months of hard work and learning, Georgia passes the GED test, earning a high school equivalency diploma. She also passes the NCCER test and earns the NCCER Core credential.

Part 5: Adding a Credential to a Digital Wallet

Georgia lives in a state that offers digital wallets to its residents. These wallets can store important things like IDs and school records. With help from her career navigator, Georgia sets up her own digital wallet.

After she passes the NCCER test, Georgia gets an email from NCCER. This email has a link that lets her add her new credential to her digital wallet. The state also issues diplomas as digital credentials. So, Georgia's wallet now holds her high school equivalency diploma and her NCCER Core credential.

These digital wallets, which can be an app on a mobile phone, make it easy for someone like Georgia to keep and use her credentials. She can include them when applying for jobs or continuing in school.

These credentials are digital, verifiable, and secure, including detailed skills information. As a result, Georgia no longer has to request or pay for transcripts—the hard-earned credentials are Georgia’s to keep and share with employers and schools as needed. By storing her credentials in a digital wallet, Georgia essentially carries a 'digital wallet’ of her skill currency, ready to be presented whenever needed. As a secure digital system, the credentials also cannot be faked, ensuring companies can reliably evaluate when a credential is real (like a high school diploma, college degree, or NCCER Core credential).

Part 6: How Employers Find New Staff

Georgia chooses to share her resume and credentials on a job matching website. This way, employers can see her skills and the credentials she has earned. When Georgia officially earns the NCCER Core credential, ABC Construction gets a notification through the job matching site. The message tells them that someone in their area has earned the credential they need for one of their current job openings.

At this point, ABC Construction only sees general information about the candidate without knowing who they are. They don't get any personal details about Georgia yet. Based on the anonymous resume, if they think Georgia might be a good fit, they can ask her to apply for the job.

Part 7: Using Credentials in the Hiring Process

After earning these two credentials, Georgia receives a notification: there's a local company with job openings, and she qualifies with the credentials she has. She decides to apply, sending her digital resume, which includes these new credentials, to ABC Construction.

At ABC Construction, the hiring manager uses digital tools to confirm that Georgia's credentials are real. This process not only verifies the credentials but also provides a clear understanding of Georgia's skills and educational experiences. The manager can review the specifics of the NCCER test Georgia took, giving them a better grasp of how comprehensive the assessment is. This level of detail helps the company understand the full range of skills Georgia can bring to the position, helping in their hiring decision.

Since ABC Construction frequently hires construction workers, the hiring manager is likely familiar with the NCCER Core Construction credential. However, with over one million different credentials out there, they might come across some credentials they don't recognize. In these cases, the hiring manager can use the same digital tools to understand the skills and assessment methods behind these unfamiliar credentials. This process provides a detailed map of the candidate's competence. As a result, the credentials can offer a more complete way of evaluating applicants than with a traditional resume and interview process.

It's important to note that the rise of digital credentials doesn't mean traditional elements like resumes, degrees, or interviews are no longer useful. Instead, digital credentials provide additional data and insights that complement these established methods. This integration helps create a fuller picture of a candidate's learning and skills acquired through education, work, volunteering, and military experience. It's like having a more complete map of skills, offering a new and useful tool for everyone involved in the hiring process.


The transition to SBH hiring systems can benefit all stakeholders in the workforce system. This new approach is powered by digital credentials and industry-recognized assessments like the NCCER Core. Transparent, open data shows exactly how the credentials, skills, and occupational requirements are connected. 

In this system, employers can find the right people with the right skills for different jobs more easily. People looking for jobs can show off their skills and get information that helps them choose what to learn next. Schools and colleges can update their courses to make sure students learn what local businesses need. And career navigators can use up-to-date job information to help students pick the right skills to learn for their future careers.

This shift recognizes skills as the new currency of the job market, empowering individuals to capitalize on their abilities and experiences in a tangible, marketable way.

One key to the process is the technology that enables digital, verifiable, transparently clear credentials. These credentials are easy to verify, and show exactly what skills someone has. They help companies quickly see if someone's qualifications are real and fit the job. If successful, this modernized approach to hiring can create a more efficient, transparent, and inclusive recruitment landscape for everyone involved.

Looking Ahead

In 2024, ISTE’s SkillRise will be developing a micro-learning experience (MLE) that is designed to help introduce digital credentials and SBH to job seekers, educators, and employers. The mobile-friendly, interactive design will look and feel similar to our other MLEs. You can explore one of those here.

Follow SkillRise on LinkedIn and Twitter to be notified of when the new skills-based hiring MLE is released, expected in summer 2024. 

Organizations like the non-profit Credential Engine are fueling the creation of solutions that empower people to find the pathways that are best for them. Credential Engine provides a suite of technology and web-based services that help learners, credential providers, employers, and policy-makers understand the value of credentials. For more information about clear, transparent credential and skill data, contact Credential Engine,