SkillsFWD’s mission is to create a more equitable skills-based hiring ecosystem by expanding adoption of learning and employment records (LERs). Supported by the Charles Koch Foundation, Walmart, and several other organizations, SkillsFWD drives LER innovation by supporting entrepreneurs who are making LERs more accessible, interoperable, and scalable. We spoke with Walmart Foundation’s Sean Murphy about SkillsFWD and how LERs will help people find work that matches their unique aptitudes and interests.
CHARLES KOCH FOUNDATION: What are LERs? How will they offer people greater flexibility in their career?
MURPHY: In today’s digital world, it seems kind of crazy that we still rely on a resume to tell employers why they should hire us. While we all have a great story to tell, we are not all great storytellers, and this leaves many behind. We could be using technology and our own data to tell our story, yet we’re limited to an outdated format.
That’s where LERs come in. LERs are personalized digital records that tell the story of a person’s career journey and showcase what they know and what they’ve accomplished. They’re not just a snapshot of a person’s skills at a certain moment in time, but rather a lifelong record of their learning, experience, and growth. For example, if someone worked in retail or hospitality, they will have gained foundational skills that are transferable to other industries, but those experiences might not be highlighted on a traditional resume.
LERs give people the opportunity to present all their skills and achievements, while giving value to learning no matter where or when it happens.
CKF: Self-actualization is a person’s lifelong pursuit of identifying and fulfilling their potential. Many workers today are eager to embrace this pursuit. How will LERs facilitate self-actualization?
MURPHY: We often forget that not everyone wants or needs a degree, even if college is made free for everyone. While making college more accessible does remove barriers, it still doesn’t provide people with options for learning in a way that works best for them. In some cases, people feel obligated to go to college even if it’s not the best fit for their learning style or interests. This can lead to struggles and feelings of inadequacy if they don’t perform well in college or don’t go in the first place.
However, there are plenty of other paths and opportunities that are, and should be, equally meaningful and valuable.
To truly transform our system, we need to recognize that people learn in a variety of ways and that learning takes place throughout our lives, not just in college. LERs give people the opportunity to showcase their growth and align it with their careers based on their own interests, needs, and the demands of the economy. This way, people can explore the different options available to them and find the path that works best for their unique skills and abilities.
CKF: How might LERs help employers?
MURPHY: LERs are more than just a verifiable digital record of a person’s accomplishments — they provide machine-readable data that can be used by employers to match the right talent for the right roles at the right time. With a deeper, richer set of data that highlights what each worker brings to the workplace, employers can more efficiently connect talent to high-demand roles, upskilling opportunities, and pathways that might be suited for their employees. This way, LERs can help employers build the skills they need to grow their business. They will have confidence in knowing what skills they already have and those they are missing.
Ultimately, LERs can help us get to a place where skills become the language that is the basis for hiring. By capturing a person’s learning and growth over their career, LERs provide a comprehensive picture of their knowledge and abilities, which can help employers identify the best candidates for a given role. With LERs, we can move away from relying solely on traditional resumes and toward a more skill-based approach to hiring and career development.
CKF: How is SkillsFWD facilitating bottom-up innovation in the LER space?
MURPHY: To make LERs more effective, we’re exploring technologies that can help make LER systems interoperable. We can learn from other technologies that have already achieved interoperability, such as email, MP3s, and credit card systems. Another example of a similar system is electronic health records, which are personalized digital records that patients control and share to improve their own outcomes. By diving into these technologies and understanding what has worked and what hasn’t, we can develop a more effective and efficient LER system.
Ultimately, our goal is to create a system that is both comprehensive and flexible, and that can adapt to the needs of individuals and employers as they evolve over time. By leveraging the latest technologies and learning from established systems, we can create an LER system that truly meets the needs of all stakeholders in the workforce.
CKF: You’ve just launched your request for proposals, which emphasizes community-based solutions. While LERs have the potential for national scalability, why does their adoption and refinement require local knowledge?
MURPHY: Our main goal is to create an ecosystem centered on workers and employers — one that considers the needs of all stakeholders involved. To achieve this goal, we are investing in projects that focus on the entirety of the ecosystem. We also believe the most effective way to achieve this goal is at the local level, where employers, learners, workers, educators, and other stakeholders can come together and collaborate. It’s important to have all these stakeholders involved because each brings unique perspectives and experiences to the table.
We need everyone to understand their role in developing this ecosystem and work together to create a more comprehensive and effective system. This way, we can scale our efforts and make a real impact on the lives of workers and learners across the country.
CKF: SkillsFWD has attracted support from a multitude of organizations, and ones that sometimes hold opposing outlooks. What is it about LERs that excites this diverse group?
MURPHY: At the heart of our efforts is a common desire to change mindsets and create more opportunities for people to achieve their goals. We believe everyone should have access to multiple routes to success, and each person should be able to choose the path that is best for them; a path that can evolve throughout an individual’s life.
As I suggested before, it’s important to recognize that the traditional route of obtaining a college degree is not the only path to success. In fact, only about 35 percent of people in the country have a college degree, yet we still tend to view this as the norm. This means that many people who have taken different paths may not be seen as having the same value or talent, simply because they don’t have a college degree. Our goal is to change this perspective and highlight the value of all types of work and learning. We want to empower people to control their own futures and find work that is meaningful to them, regardless of their educational background. By supporting projects like SkillsFWD, organizations can create more opportunities for people to succeed and build a more inclusive and equitable society.
CKF: It’s about human dignity, then. That’s a big mission, and the widespread adoption of digital credentials and LERs is still in the early stages. How rapidly do you think this innovation can scale?
MURPHY: We believe projects like SkillsFWD can have a significant impact on the adoption of LERs. By supporting LER projects and helping to align stakeholders, we can create an ecosystem that is poised for hockey stick growth by 2026.
While philanthropy will be a part of this endeavor for the next few years, we ultimately believe core stakeholders will begin to see LERs as a necessity and a cost of doing business, much like offering a work email address. However, for this to happen, we need all stakeholders to work together and understand their roles in this process. We must avoid working in silos. Instead, we need to focus on creating a comprehensive and inclusive ecosystem that supports the needs of workers, learners, employers, and other stakeholders.