Companies to report next month on LER pilot

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Two major employers piloting a portable academic, work and skills transcript plan to share their results next month with a workforce advisory board created by the White House.

During an informational webinar Tuesday on the so-called “learning and employment record,” or LER, officials from IBM and Walmart, which are among four major employers testing the process, said they would share results in September with the American Workforce Advisory Policy Board. The blue-ribbon panel, which includes three representatives from the community college sector, including American Association of Community Colleges President Walter Bumphus and AACC board member Sheree Utash of WSU Tech in Kansas, recommended the LER and the pilot.

A few community colleges are participating in the pilot. A couple of them were featured at the advisory board’s June meeting, including IBM’s pilot focused on cyber security. That partnership includes Central New Mexico Community College and the National Student Clearinghouse.

‘The tipping point’

The LER would serve like a digital transcript that would compile in one location a worker’s credentials, skills and employment experiences that would be updated, verified and available almost instantly. Advocates for the LER say it benefits both workers and employers to better assess, map out and match skills to particular jobs. Such records would be especially helpful now during the coronavirus to quickly connect employers and potential employees. In fact, the pandemic may actually accelerate the importance of the pilot, said Alex Kaplan, global leader of blockchain and AI industry credentials at IBM.

“I think we are at the tipping point,” he said, adding that he expects rapid changes in the next year or two.

Assessing job skills

Much of the work on the LER so far has focused on determining the skills required for job positions, said Andy Trainor, vice president and chief learning officer at Walmart. The company previously looked at an applicant’s degrees or credentials along with previous job experience instead of whether he or she had the skills needed for the job, he said. Walmart aims to map the skills required for 175 positions by the end of the year, and the number of stores using the process will reach 700 in a few months, Trainor added.

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Participants in Tuesday’s webinar — which included representatives from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), Western Governors University and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers — also discussed how the record may resemble a digital wallet. In fact, NSC this fall will roll out the Myhub Universal Wallet as part of the LER project, said Shelby Stanfield, NSC’s director of service innovation networks. It can help learners instantly determine whether their skills match with job profiles, as well as help employers recruit the right workers, he said. Institutions such as colleges also can use the tool to determine what areas to focus on to help bridge any skills gaps.

What’s next

When the pilot concludes, Walmart will continue to roll out skills-based searches to connect applicants to the right jobs, Trainor said. But whether other companies will adopt the LER would remain to be seen, as it would require resources to evaluate positions, and employers would need incentives to share their skills catalog, several panelists said. Plus it would likely require an independent body to manage a skills repository.

Listeners of the webinar posed various questions to panel members on taxonomy, rigor of validating skills, the role of postsecondary institutions and more. There has been some confusion about the LER regarding how it would work. Even its initial name — the “interoperable learning record” — prompted some advisory board members to recommend changing it something more user-friendly. Still, its advocates are confident the LER will develop into a game-changer.

“This is an evolving story. More to come,” moderator and NSC President Rick Torres said at the conclusion of the discussion.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.