September 3, 2020 By Alex Kaplan 5 min read

Over the last few years, employers have become less interested in what degrees job candidates have and more interested in what actual skills they possess.

The challenge is that it’s hard to know what skills someone truly has. You can look at resumes, job histories, and social media platforms, but that information may be inaccurate or misleading. In a 2019 survey by, recruiters stated that 85% of candidates exaggerate skills and competencies on their resumes. Most people are attempting to portray accurately the skills they have developed. However, that’s hard to do, given the lack of clear guidance about what constitutes proof of skill attainment.

Attainment can be anything from passing a proctored exam to become a licensed veterinarian to your colleagues asking you to work as a graphic designer on a project to just knowing you are a skilled baker. As a result, we infer skills from many different sources, but as skills become ever more consequential, we need tools and processes to confirm them at scale.

Employers have many jobs they cannot fill because they cannot find people with the right mix of skills. We need a reliable system for understanding and validating people’s true skills. We can use artificial intelligence to scan the hundreds of applications submitted, but many are chaotically written and it can be hard to discern which skills match to which jobs. Often, neither the application material nor the job descriptions are written in a direct, specific, and useful way, nor are they easily aligned to the skills that would assure job success.

Getting proper credit for your skills

This method for filling jobs makes it tough for job seekers, especially those who did not attend prestigious colleges. They need an objective way to present information about the skills that make them appealing candidates. Job seekers need to receive full, appropriate recognition for courses they might have taken online or through nontraditional channels that reflect true skill acquisition.

Individuals also need a simpler way to understand what skills they need, and where to get them, to be hired for the jobs they want. One job does not always lead seamlessly to the next. Sometimes people want to change fields, reshuffle their skills and add some new ones. Often they shift into something analogous, but sometimes they choose a completely different path. A platform or app that enables an applicant to see what skills they are missing and where they can get them if they are looking to make a significant employment transition, would be transformative.

An important group of organizations have come together to try to tackle this problem. All are facing the same problem IBM faces: There’s a lot of obstruction and inefficiency in the talent marketplace. Technology can help us make this process easier. We believe that by using a blockchain-enabled wallet, we can help people keep their credentials in a safe place even as they seamlessly share them.

Partnering for job seekers and employers

To test out the idea of making it easier for people to chart a path to their own future, we are conducting a pilot program now with several partners, including the National Student Clearinghouse, Western Governors University, Central New Mexico Community College and IQ4. This pilot employs a blockchain-powered digital platform that will enable easy sharing of learning and employment records while simultaneously assuring privacy and security for the individual. This pilot is part of the work of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, led by the White House and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In the pilot, we will provide tools that make it easier for job seekers and employers to manage careers in cybersecurity. We will give students information about the skills they need to become a cyber security engineer and how to fill skills gaps they might have. The pilot will also provide useful information on job applicants with the requisite skills to employers. We expect to have the results in the fall of 2020.

Assuming the pilot yields good results, the next step is to create a trusted blockchain-enabled platform on a national level where people can post their verified skills for rapid search by employers. This platform will accelerate the process of helping students and workers land in-demand jobs.

Setting standards for a digital wallet

Creating a trusted platform requires a data set that can be shared broadly—an interoperable data set. We don’t have that now. Part of the problem is simply the data itself. One organization might have the information but it’s hard to share because there are proprietary databases involved and few generally agreed-upon standards that define what this learning and employment record should look like. We need a set of standards for both applicants and job descriptions. Moreover, everything needs to be machine readable so technology can work its magic.

To provide security, the record will be built on a privacy-protected blockchain infrastructure. People will have a permanent, verifiable record of their learning, certifications and skills. They will control the data and choose how it is shared, but they will not be able to manipulate it, nor will outsiders be able to hack it. Basically, everyone will have a digital wallet that contains their work and education info, which they can share where how they please.

How would that work? Let’s say you are one of the many restaurant workers let go because of the pandemic, and unlikely to soon find work in that industry. You have a set of skills and experiences, and they are reflected in your wallet. Let’s say you want to move into tech. You can say to the wallet—perhaps through an app on your phone—that you want to do that. It might then tell you that you have 30 percent of the needed skills, and then show you several education programs that can give you the remaining 70 percent.

New collar jobs for a new economy

Once you get that training, ideally the job will find you. You’ll have made your skills publicly available for employers to search—anonymously, of course. Blockchain allows us to gather data from all sorts of proprietary data bases and assemble it in a useful, secure way, allowing sharing while keeping the individual anonymous. In any blockchain, you can see the provenance of the information and who issued it, and it can never be erased. Because blockchain consists of potentially millions of permanent individual blocks, no information can be altered. It can only be added to, making hacking essentially impossible.

Many fields are experiencing a significant shortage of workers. Jobs are changing so rapidly that it’s hard for everyone to keep up. The fact that millions of people in the U.S. are either unemployed or displaced has added fuel to the fire to help them find new jobs and careers. While the change to a skills-based economy was already underway, the pandemic is speeding up this transformation. We have to make sure that it not only functions and protects privacy, but that it doesn’t leave behind those who are less able to access or less comfortable using technology.

I believe this is a transformative use of technology that will change peoples’ lives. It’s urgently needed and we must do it now.

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