Recruiting, Technology

The Global Currency of Digital Passports in the Workforce

An issue I’ve returned to again and again is the skills shortage. According to ManpowerGroup, 69% of U.S. employers are struggling to fill vacancies, particularly in skilled trades, IT, sales, and marketing. At the same time, we’ve seen workers in low-skill jobs displaced at distressingly high rates in the recent wave of COVID layoffs. Many of these people have exemplary employability skills (e.g., communication, teamwork, flexibility) but lack technical skills.

digital passports in the workforce
Source: pgraphis / iStock / Getty

One way to match this displaced labor force with open job positions is with a digital passport. A digital passport is an online document that records a person’s skills in a standard, verifiable format. The passport changes and grows as its holder gains more skills and credentials. Ideally, it becomes part of a searchable database employers can access to match empty jobs with skilled applicants, including applicants with vital employability skills whom they can easily train.

Global Forays into the Digital Skills Passport

You’ll find versions of digital skills passports in pockets around the world. One of these is the International Computer Driving License (ICDL), which began as a certification in basic computer skills for European citizens but has now expanded internationally and includes a suite of offerings from basic (“Digital Citizen”) to advanced (cloud computing). The ICDL makes it possible for users to build an online profile of gradually increasing skills that show not only technical proficiency but also a commitment to lifelong learning.

There’s an African version of the ICDL, as well, that was introduced in 2014. eLearning Solutions, based in Zimbabwe, focuses on basic computer skills for companies, organizations, and individuals. The training is offered in 10 modules that cover Microsoft® Office packages and social media. Those who successfully complete the modules gain a credential similar to the ICDL.

In Portugal, the Lisbon City Council sponsors a digital skills passport you can obtain by pacing through 15 hours of digital literacy workshops and gamification. Focused on 10 digital skills, the passport can be shared across the Web, on social networks, or on your résumé. Like the eLearning Solutions program, this passport records success in a one-off training course—it’s not a dynamic record of continuous learning.

Just as important as the digital passports themselves is the technology to update and share them. In Australia, researchers have developed blockchain-based computer architecture to share and verify credentials securely.

The University of NSW’s CredChain is one example, with the potential for real-world applications in medical and academic recordkeeping, as well as information-sharing. Professor Salil Kanhere, one of the leading researchers on this project, says CredChain is a tamper-proof way for users to collect, store, and share information about course completion and grades.

A Next-Generation Skills Passport

Here in the United States, I’ve found a more dynamic approach to a digital skills passport.  

Education software provider iq4 runs a Passport and Applied Learning Program on Myhub, a platform that facilitates the exchange of information between schools and businesses and is used by more than 14,000 high schools and 21 million students.

According to iq4, its passport is a “verifiable record of a person’s achievements in education or training processes, formal or informal, classroom-based, or workplace-based and can be interchangeably shared between education providers and businesses.” Company CEO Frank Cicio successfully applied for a U.S. patent for a skills portfolio passport verified by blockchain. The company uses natural language processing (artificial intelligence (AI)) to generate the passport, which is “based on skills and competency assessments … with ‘real-time’ applied knowledge data.”

In his patent documentation, Cicio explains why a digital skills passport is needed. “Today, businesses capable of providing good jobs and career-type employment are frustrated from the lack of finding qualified applications. Vice versa, job applicants are frustrated with their lack of success at finding new employment or reasonably ascertaining and gaining a keen understanding of the skills employers are looking for in a candidate. This rapidly growing skills gap requires new and interactive solutions that promote skills identification, development, portfolio creation and commercial interaction in a secure and auditable manner.”

Cicio’s platform would include self-assessment, as well as assessment by peers, instructors, managers, and others. The platform would showcase items such as test results, applied skills, and skills demonstrated in a work setting. Where a user’s skill set shows he or she is on the way to a full qualification, the platform could recommend courses that would help the person achieve that qualification.

JP Morgan Chase is one company interested in iq4’s self-assessment functionality. It’s harnessing it as part of its $350 million global investment in the future of work—a 5-year plan to help meet the shortfall in skilled workers.

With all of these efforts underway both globally and locally, I believe a sophisticated digital passport—a living document that showcases potential employees’ skills and credentials and that employers can use to match those skills to open jobs—will be an essential labor force tool in the very near future.

About Nicholas Wyman
Nicholas Wyman is a future work expert, an author, a speaker, and president of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation (IWSI America). He was also LinkedIn’s #1 Education Writer of the Year and wrote an award-winning book, Job U, a practical guide to finding wealth and success by developing the skills companies actually need. Wyman has an MBA, studied at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government, and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship.