Youth Employability: Pinning Down the Future of Digital Badges
The following report concludes the final stage of a two-year project funded by the European Union through the Erasmus+ programme and conducted by The Mix and the Centre for Digital Youth Care (CDYC). Our intention was to improve youth employability in the UK and Denmark by developing informal learning options online that could be recognised with the awarding of a digital badge that could be transferable across Europe.
Below outlines the executive summary of our report. For the full report, click here.
Digital badging today
The concept of badging is not new. Young people have been collecting badges to show their achievements or involvements similarly for generations, be it with the traditional gold star or with the Girl Guides badge sash. A digital badge demonstrates the acquisition of a new skill or achievement that has been completed digitally, and any organisation is technically capable of developing a digital badge.
However, all digital badging must meet the same requirements of the digital badging specification in order to ensure the quality and validity of the courses available. Each digital badge is created with an Issuer Profile, which includes information such as the name, description and contact details of the issuer, which appears in the metadata of all the badges. Metadata is a term used to describe a set of data that provides information about other data. Digital badges are designed to be displayed digitally but can also be included on a CV through either an image or a brief explanation of the skills acquired through a digital badge course.
The availability of digital badges gives younger age groups the opportunity to find out what they are interested in, whilst receiving recognition for their effort. The older age groups can use digital badging as a fast route to accreditation. A digital badge allows them to differentiate themselves from other candidates in job and university applications.
The increase in online learning and training has made badging easier, more versatile and an effective way of developing skills, such as those needed for finding employment and, with technology improving all the time, digital badges are likely to become even more adaptable.
The Mix and CDYC work with young people through digital platforms and we can offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities to young people. Digital badging is an important way to train volunteers and support their skills and career development. We also identified the opportunity to lower the barriers of entry to training with online learning, and to enable those who do not yet have the confidence or skills to participate in more intensive roles to get involved.
This project identified two areas of particular benefit digital badging offers young people. The development of a digital badge addresses the need to support young people in their ability to communicate the skills they have to employers. Digital badging is also an informal and accessible form of online training and learning for young people as an alternative to formal education. This follows recent trends that show a shift in the acceptance by employers of informal and alternative training methods.
The initial stage of the project involved holding co-creation sessions with young people and employers in both the UK and Denmark. These sessions were a way of “connecting the dots” between young people and employers and provided insight into what skills young people are lacking and what employers find difficult about employing young people.
These sessions were also an opportunity to identify differences and similarities between young people in the UK and Denmark, and how digital badging can help to improve their employability. For example, there is a difference in job markets for young people in Denmark compared to the UK, where the employment pathway is much more structured. Whereas in the UK, young people are often looking for skills to help them get temporary and informal employment to accompany their studies or provide a bridge between a permanent career.
The key findings from these co-creations helped to develop the purpose and intended outcomes of the digital badge. These were:
- – Young people told us that their primary motivation to take part in a digital badge course would be to improve their employability
- – For both young people and employers the credibility of the badge is vital for its success – this could be communicated through sponsorship from a credible brand and relevant information about the badge’s properties
- – Both young people and employers agreed that if more young people were involved in working towards digital badges, its credibility would increase.
The result of these co-creation sessions was the development of a Problem Solver digital badge. The course takes an hour to complete and is broken into 3 modules, using workplace scenarios to develop problem solving skills by empowering users to use their initiative when faced with a problem.
We have undertaken activities in order to encourage its use and recognition among young people and employers. This has involved blogging about the insights of the project and the benefits of online learning and digital badges. We have also worked to develop relationships with external organisations in order to increase awareness of the Problem Solver badge and to enhance its credibility.
“I loved how the course took me through the stages of finding out what a problem is, how to identify solutions, action and manage arguments. I also loved the self-reflection aspect too and thought this was helpful when thinking about jobs and interview questions. I think an activity that took us through a problem with different solutions and different outcomes would’ve been a fun addition, but otherwise it was good!”
“I think it is a very good course. It focuses on different issues, meaning you can learn how to avoid or solve issues by, for example, showing appreciation, simply listening or giving concrete advice.”
Recommendations & best practice
The project has identified four key practices required to develop a successful digital badge ecosystem. These are:
Effective design of the product
The design of the product involves identifying and understanding its intended audience. This forms the intended outcomes and achievements of the digital badge. Its technology must be functional and adaptable to an ongoing process of improvement to ensure a quality product.
Developing a badge with value
The value of a digital badge lies in the experts that have been involved in its design and the organisations who are on board to ensure the badge has value for its intended audience.
Developing confidence in online learning
The confidence in online learning must be developed by raising awareness of its value through promotion and the development of partnerships with organisations that will encourage its use. The participation of young people is essential to increasing confidence in its value.
Establishing badge sponsorship
The digital badging ecosystem relies on the contribution of relevant corporate sponsors to endorse the use of digital badges that are created by the issuer, in this case The Mix and CDYC.
The future of digital badging
This project has been successful in revealing the possibilities of digital badging. As a result, CDYC has become a leader in introducing Denmark to digital badging as an online form of learning. CDYC will continue to self-fund the development of digital badging with young people in the future. The digital badges have also become a core part of the digital offering of The Mix, which will be working to develop more digital badges in the future.
However, this project is only the beginning. The key challenge we face in securing a future for digital badging to enhance the employability of young people is increasing the credibility of digital badges, including the Problem Solver badge. Although online learning is on the rise, it is still competing with the longer tradition of formal qualifications needed to gain employment.
In order to promote the credibility of the badge, we require sponsorship to increase recognition of this new and accessible model of training that has been established through this project.
Through partnerships and sponsorship, we will be able to develop new digital badging courses that address other important soft skills required in the workplace. Whilst we are experts in working with young people to understand the difficulties that they face in the search for employment, the future of digital badging requires continued collaboration with the HR departments of companies to understand what new skills are needed for the workplace.
The approach of this project has been to develop a standardised solution for cross-cultural youth employability. Yet, this project has revealed a variation in the job markets of the UK and Denmark. The challenge of increasing international recognition of online qualifications like digital badging requires the input of companies to recognise its value as well as understand the differences that are inevitable between countries across Europe.