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The Time for Skilled Credentials Is Now

How we evaluate credentials, training and experience should reflect our expectations for building tomorrow's workforce.

A man in a suit and tie.

​Month after month, for over a year, more than 10 million jobs went unfilled in the U.S., with workers leaving their jobs in droves. Labor force participation sits at historically low levels, as scores of Baby Boomers choose to retire in the wake of the pandemic. Some 20 years before any of this, the U.S. birth rate began its steady decline. 

The result is that we’re left with too few workers with the requisite skills to meet today’s labor demand. Simply put, the workforce we have doesn’t meet the needs of our economy. Our ability to respond quickly to shifts in market demand has limited growth and has left us on the verge of an economic slide. 

Traditionally, businesses have been fixated on formal degree requirements for many professions. For decades, a bachelor’s degree has been the bar to clear for numerous career pathways. But as the price of entry into the white-collar world has grown increasingly steep, people are reconsidering the value and viability of a four-year degree. 

Looking at the widening skills gap we face, I wonder if there is a better way. Do we need to rethink our concept of workforce planning? Given our immediate workforce needs, what will be the cost of waiting another four to six years to get today’s high school graduates into the workforce? 

How we define talent from a skills standpoint, along with what the required credentials are for a job, is changing for the better. How we evaluate credentials, training and experience should reflect our expectations for building skills for tomorrow’s workforce. We should be looking at job prospects through the lens of tomorrow, not yesterday. 

When it comes to skill building for the future of work, we must do what makes sense for the work required. Adding skilled credentials (such as training certificates and industry certifications) to the factors considered during the recruiting process can accelerate skill development within the workforce. Students attending college to earn a four-year degree can cover a broad range of subjects—many of which they may never use in their careers. Conversely, skilled credentials can better match the level of specialization required in some industries and career tracks.

This gives the workforce greater flexibility to respond to shifts in labor needs. Creating alternative pathways into emerging career fields builds skill sets that are more applicable to today’s job market. Lower cost and shorter time frames reduce the barriers to entry into certain industries. Skilled credentials add avenues to grow the skill sets of those with degrees and standardize the quality of workers in nondegree segments. 

When the SHRM Foundation surveyed executives, managers and HR professionals on their views about skilled credentials, 50 percent of executives said they place a high value on such credentials when making hiring decisions for open positions. In stark contrast, only 15 percent of HR professionals agreed. This 35-point difference in how HR professionals and business executives view the value of skilled credentials is a problem. 

We cannot afford to stick with the status quo when recruiting talent. Now more than ever, HR must Cause the Effect in the world of work. To truly expand the potential of the workforce and grow productivity, HR must adjust its recruiting methodology and mindset to fully embrace skilled credentials. Together, we can help create a more specialized talent pipeline to match the needs of the future.  

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Photograph by Cade Martin for HR Magazine.


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