Digital Learning Records Make the Job Market More Equitable and CBOs Can Help

Community based organizations have an important role to play in a large-scale effort to build systems that increase access to good jobs by enabling workers to share digital records of their education and employment histories with employers, schools, and training providers.

Published mar. 05, 2021

The era of the resume may be coming to an end. Jobseekers may soon be able to maintain and share detailed, verified, and secure records of their skills, educational experiences, and work histories in readily accessible digital files called learning and employment records (LER).

LERs have several advantages over resumes, especially for people who developed their skills through a wide range of experiences—whether in the classroom, on the job, or in the military, for example. LERs use a standardized data language, which makes it possible for previously disconnected educational systems and employers to access and share information about an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. The information is automatically verified by the issuing party and digitally encrypted, meaning employers can trust its accuracy. And LERs are dynamic, making them easy to keep up to date.

As we continue to work toward an equitable recovery from the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for people from a variety of work and education backgrounds to be able to share detailed and verified information about their job qualifications, regardless of where or how they acquired them.

However, widespread adoption of LERs won’t be possible until our nation’s education and workforce systems adopt a standardized data infrastructure that enables the IT systems in all of the settings where individuals build skills to work together.

What is an LER?
A learning and employment record, or LER, is a comprehensive digital record of a worker’s skills and competencies. LERs can document learning wherever it occurs, and they may include records of people’s credentials, degrees, and employment histories.

LERs have several advantages over resumes, especially for people who developed their skills through a range of experiences—in the classroom, on the job, or in the military, for example.

JFF and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation are at the forefront of an effort to develop an LER-friendly infrastructure, and we believe community-based organizations (CBO) have a big role to play in this initiative, because they provide job training and other workforce development services to millions of people.

Despite the technology’s potential, deployment of LER systems has been hindered because the worlds of work and learning have been slow to build an interoperable IT infrastructure to support them. But JFF, along with hundreds of partners, is taking action to address that problem.

Our Outcomes for Opportunity initiative is working to build an interoperable data infrastructure for the nation’s workforce system, and we recently became an early partner of the Open Skills Network, a cross-sector coalition of organizations advancing skills-based education and hiring. In addition, for the past year, we have been helping CBOs get involved with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s T3 Innovation Network, a group of more than 400 organizations working to create a more open, connected, and decentralized skills data ecosystem.

Ideal Role for CBOs

CBOs are ideally situated to test LER technology, because they are deeply embedded in their communities and use their hyperlocal expertise to serve two sets of customers—the people who participate in their training programs and employers seeking talent. CBOs typically house multiple services under one roof and serve as the front door for postsecondary institutions and credential programs. And they’re already comfortable with data, often using sophisticated customer relationship management software, learning management systems, and other tools to run their programs.

Here are just a few ways LER systems and the data they collect can benefit CBOs and the stakeholders they serve:

  • Intake: Accelerate the process of onboarding new participants, allowing staff to focus on building relationships with clients instead of entering data about their education and work experiences.
  • Customization: Facilitate the creation of more individualized and targeted training programs that build on what people already know and the things they can already do.
  • Tracking: Allow participants to see the progress they’re making in real time as they rack up achievements on the way to completing a program. This builds confidence and creates an incentive to keep learning and working.
  • Mobility: Ease transitions into and out of postsecondary programs by making it easier for students to share their information with schools, training providers, employers, and others.
  • Ownership: Empower participants to own and control their own data and decide whether they will allow the CBO, funders, or evaluators to access it.
  • Outcomes: Help CBOs understand the long-term impact of their programs if participants agree to share information about their earnings and the progress they make in their careers. That kind of data can be difficult to obtain through traditional channels like surveys, which have notoriously low response rates, or state unemployment insurance records, which are often lagging or incomplete.

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The Goal: Seamless Movement of Information

So how can CBOs join the data interoperability revolution? Setting up an LER pilot project with partner organizations from different sectors would be a good start. Together, they could test the transmission of digital records from one system to another—from a learning management system to a human resources information system, for example.

A pilot like that would require participating organizations to invest in staff training and technologies such as the tools needed to accept, digitally sign, and export verified records. The beauty is that much of the technology and data needed to power LER systems already exists. The challenge is to translate the information into a common language and adapt existing IT infrastructure components to enable the seamless movement of information among stakeholders.

[LERs] can open up opportunities for previously overlooked workers by giving them a way to show employers what they know and what they can do.

LERs have the potential to make the labor market more equitable—an objective that’s especially critical at this time, when the pandemic-driven health care and economic crises have displaced so many workers from underserved communities. And beyond meeting that immediate need, they can foster long-term advances throughout the economy—and benefit workers and employers alike—by improving the connections between learning and work.

Deployed at scale, LERs could help businesses save time and money by making it easier to verify workers’ skills, employment records, and credentials. And, most important, they can open up opportunities for previously overlooked workers by giving them a way to show employers what they know and what they can do.

This project was made possible with grant support by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.