As young Cub Scouts, we gazed in awe at troop members who wore the prestigious Webelos badge. It signifies great achievements, including training as a campfire chef and as a first responder.
Academia has used diplomas for hundreds of years, and in business and corporate learning, certificates have been symbols of achievement for decades.
The problem with those credentials is that they are not portable, and they are hidden from public view. We stuffed our certificates into file drawers and hung our diplomas on a wall where only colleagues or clients see them.
The Rise of Open Badges
In 2010, Mozilla, with the MacArthur Foundation and a group of collaborators, turned the world of credentials upside down. We now have a free, open source standard for creating and displaying digital badges anywhere. Digital badges are now affordable for any size organization, and they offer much more than portability.
What makes badges so valuable is the metadata they contain. A badge contains information about who earned it, who issued it, the context and content, and dates and time. It Can also carry verification data and a cryptographic key. The open badges specification is built on human-readable JSON-LD context (v2.0), and the specification is extendable.
Digital Badges in the Extended Enterprise
Nowhere has the power of certifications and badges been more apparent than in the extended enterprise. An example of this is the manufacturing industry.
- Manufacturers provide instructor-led classroom training, online learning, and seminars for their partners in management, sales, and service. partners who meet training, education, and customer satisfaction standards display digital badges on their websites, in their offices, and in their ads. Customers respond to these badges, resulting in higher sales.
- Individuals earn badges that travel with them if they move to another partner. They can display them in their online profiles and social media sites. These certifications have a direct impact on their employability and earnings.
- A trained worker in the parts department of a partner can find the right part, but more important is their ability to explain why an aftermarket brand may not be the best idea. Their knowledge increases sales, and they have a digital badge to take with them wherever they go.
- In non-captive partner organizations who sell multiple brands, the badges help manufacturers and distributors improve their market share. Brands that create a bond with the people on the sales floor have an advantage over those who don’t.
Another example of badging success is in technology. IBM began a badging initiative in 2015 for the certification programs it offers to its partners and the public. Among the benefits IBM has realized are:
- Reduced customer service costs. Certified customers don’t need as much help.
- Skill tracking at the nano level, making it easier to find people with skills for a particular need.
- Crowd-sourcing of critical skills. People who take the courses enter the talent pipeline.
- Recognition that increases employee engagement and retention.
- Speed up shifts in expertise. It is a fast way to develop a new skill area.
But…We’re Not IBM
You don’t have to be a global megalith to benefit from badges. You can use them for any worthwhile achievement for any size organization. But to be viable, a certification must have these four characteristics:
The badge and the expertise it signifies must be relevant to both the issuer and the recipient, and the relevance must be in the right context. Certification on the specific products or methods in your value chain is relevant, but the context of certification in a field like risk management is global.
This is where associations step in to provide credentials. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) represents 418,000 members in 143 countries. It sells training to individuals and companies, and issues badges for certifications based on training courses, examinations, and professional experience.
By helping your people achieve certifications offered by associations, you reap the same benefits of employee loyalty, retention, and productivity that IBM does.
Verifying credentials can be troublesome and expensive, but badges are immediately verifiable through their metadata.
Badges must have transferable value, but it need not be an exact match. A certification in one HVAC system will have value to a company installing another brand.
This is where badges shine. Recipients can post them to websites, social media profiles, and online job applications. Ten people might see a certificate on your wall, but social media sites report 2.8 million views per 10,000 badges.
Realize the Value
You need not jump into badging with both feet. Start with a small initiative and grow your program. Start with a critical skill and see how it affects your recruiting and retention efforts. Let the badges speak for themselves.
Watch for an article next week about how to implement badges in your organization.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.