Future of Work

The Rise of Assessment Tech in Learning and Development

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On an ASU-GSV panel, a professor from a distinguished university told the audience, “I wouldn’t hire any of my students based on a diploma. I would require a pre-hire assessment.

It was a bold, honest statement, mirrored by thought leaders like Ryan Craig who argue “Colleges continue to act as though they’re preparing students for their fifth job, not their first job.” Craig is right when he says there has been a major shift in the kind of skills employers are looking for — toward more practical, technical, software-oriented and digital competencies. In an era where many are beginning to rethink the value — and need — for a college degree in the workplace, employers are embracing alternative pathways to build skills and provide signals of achievements and capabilities beyond the diploma and resume.

The rise of skills-based hiring

A survey on the use and value of educational credentials, authored by Dr. Sean Gallagher from Northeastern University, cites companies like IBM who demonstrate that skills-based or competency-based hiring appears to be gaining significant interest and momentum. Gallagher’s survey shows a majority of HR leaders reporting either having a formal effort to de-emphasize degrees and prioritize skills underway (23%) or actively exploring and considering this direction (39%). Gallagher writes. “A growing group of employers, non-profits, foundations, and technology firms are championing skills-based hiring and providing the tools to support it . . . including IBM’s “New Collar Jobs” effort, Skillful, Opportunity@Work, Lumina Foundation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Pipeline Management Initiative, among many others.”

New report: A scan of the emerging assessment marketplace

With that in mind, organizations like Jobs for the Future (JFF) are investing in research and programs to accelerate a category in technology which is poised to help: Assessment Tech. In partnership with Salesforce.org and Center for Apprenticeship and Work-based Learning, JFFLabs produced a scan of the assessments marketplace showing impact opportunities, innovators to watch, technology trends and market dynamics. They then mapped nearly 80 companies to impact priorities. JFF announced four new partnerships with assessments companies to watch as part of their new JFFLabs impact accelerator cohort focused on scaling assessment tech in the IT industry. They include: Cappfinity, MyInnerGenius, Pairin and Vervoe.


The market scan and cohort announcement comes at a moment when according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and IT occupations will grow 13 percent between 2016 to 2026, creating 557,100 new jobs—greater than the average projected growth rate for all occupations. Organizations must develop ways to scale learning and development and provide better ways to evaluate talent for skills, abilities — and personality traits — to ensure a good fit in the their workforces.

How can assessments help in learning and development?

Assessments have always been an integral part of learning and development, from simple tests to sophisticated, legally defensible, psychometrically sound certifications. But now assessments can play a bigger role, especially helping organizations reduce bias, scale evaluation and evaluate candidates beyond a multiple choice exam or a resume. JFF outlines multiple assessment types which should be incorporated into a holistic approach to skills development:

  • Aptitude: Understand a person’s inherent qualities to indicate likelihood of success in a particular role or career, education/training program, on a team, or in other contexts. Good assessments can evaluate a candidates innate skills and abilities, regardless of education or experience.
  • Technical Skills: Measure a person’s proficiency with a specific skill, task, or assignment. This is an area where certifications and end-of-course assessments have historically played. And IBM’s Talent Assessments provide a great way to identify a person’s technical skills. Now, adaptive testing and experiential learning assessment tools are making inroads here, going way beyond multiple choice assessments. IBM’s SkillsBuild platform includes CrowdSift to give studentsthe opportunity to put learning into practice, so they can build portfolio sand demonstrate proficiencies. HackerRank is a technology hiring platform for assessing developer skills.
  • Human Skills: Understand a person’s uniquely “human” skills like communication, critical thinking, ethics and problem-solving. Also commonly referred to as soft skills, employability skills, 21st Century Skills, and other labels.

Tools and Innovation to scale learning and development

Assessment technology is getting more sophisticated and can take the place of a human being to evaluate capabilities. With a massive reskilling on the horizon because of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), technology must adapt to provide assessment at scale:

  • Multidimensional assessments can simultaneously measure more than one dimension of an individual. For example, assessments can now measure both digital and logic skills simultaneously.
  • Proctoring and remote delivery of assessment tools support remote verification of a person’s identity.
  • Authoring and customization tools now support the development and delivery of customized assessment solutions.
  • Career fit assessment is an emerging category to help people discover the careers and roles they will love.

The benefits to learning and development go beyond skills development

Where assessments have historically provided a way to assess talent, the benefits now go far beyond the employee profile to include:

  • Social impact: Many of the companies in the market scan point to specific examples where implementing their technology improved diversity and created economic advancement opportunities for their employees while also enhancing business performance. Assessments can provide a way to remove bias and help organizations create a more diverse, inclusive workforce.
  • Superior business performance: Assessments help match talent to the right roles. Validation studies show good assessments will ncrease engagement, reduce turnover, and create higher rates of productivity that help drive stronger business results.
  • Reduced costs: Recent advances in technologies like AI have significantly reduced the costs for employers to implement assessments. Historically, adopting skills-based hiring approaches has been expensive for companies. For example, less than a decade ago, the costs associated with job profiling could range in the thousands of dollars per job.

Better than a resume or degree: Assessments will grow as an essential component of a modern L&D strategy

Advances in assessment technology are helping organizations create more accurate, affordable, and efficient ways to evaluate talent based on what they know and what they can do, as opposed to relying on inaccurate signals such as a degree, pedigree, or social and professional network connections. Organizations can now leverage assessments in every area of the skills development process, from pre-training to experiential learning, to create more diverse and inclusive workforces, improve productivity, reduce attrition and increase engagement and employee satisfaction. How good is that?

IBM is democratizing IT with its skills programs

By focusing on skills over degrees and geography, IBM wants to shift mindsets in the IT industry and make tech more diverse and inclusive. We want to bring in people with non-traditional backgrounds who build skills through coding camps, community colleges or modern career education programs like our P-TECH model or apprenticeship program. We want to attract people re-entering the workforce or relaunching their careers, and we want to create more jobs for people in parts of the world where tech jobs are scarce. This is about creating tech career opportunities outside the traditional areas. The big picture: IBM has a program for anyone seeking a role in IT.

IBM has a broad strategy to rapidly build skills through multiple channels:

  • IBM Skills Gateway: Hosts one of the largest IT training programs in the world and a network of Global Training Providers who provide skills development programs at every level.
  • SkillsBuild: Provides jobseekers, including those with long-term unemployment, refugees, asylum seekers and veterans, with assessments, training, personalized coaching and the experiential learning they need to re-enter the workforce.
  • Coursera: Certificate Programs, like the IBM Customer Engagement Program, develop skills fast to land a good-paying job.
  • P-TECH: Extends the typical four-year high school to create a seamless six-year academic experience to earn an industry-recognized, two-year post-secondary degree, as well as a high school diploma.
  • IBM Skills Academy: Provides IT training through a network of higher education institutions.
  • IBM Apprenticeships: Allows candidates to develop skills and make real-world contributions – all while earning a paycheck.

David Leaser is the senior executive of strategic growth initiatives for IBM’s Training & Skills program. Leaser developed IBM’s first cloud-based embedded learning solution and is the founder of the IBM Digital Badge program. He is a Fellow at Northeastern University and a member of the IMS Global Consortium Board advisory group for digital credentials. David has provided guidance to the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Education as an employer subject matter expert. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Pepperdine University and a Master’s Degree from USC’s Annenberg School. Connect with David on LinkedIn and on Twitter.  The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of IBM.







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