Double the Impact of Talent Development Initiatives Through Credit for Prior Learning

3 critical considerations to take into account when designing credit-bearing, on-the-job learning.

This past summer, for the first time in U.S. history, the number of unfilled jobs surged to more than 10 million, further widening an already prodigious labor gap in which total jobs available outnumber total job seekers by the millions. As employees consider a wealth of opportunities to move into new roles at new organizations, companies are scrambling to find ways to shore up retention while addressing new and emerging skills needs. A key lever to winning in this war for talent is investing in innovative talent development that both adds more value to the organization and adds credentials for the individual.

Employees have always been clear about development as a powerful incentive. In a 2018 LinkedIn Learning survey, 94 percent of employees stated they would stay in their jobs longer if their employers invested in their development. The driving force behind this is a desire to gain the skills and competencies that will unlock upward mobility. As such, Learning and Development (L&D) professionals should not confuse “investing in their development” with merely launching more eLearning courses.

For front-line employees, many of whom lack a degree, the potential for an outsized impact of credentials is staggering. And within that context, there is a critical conversation L&D leaders can bring to the next meeting: how to leverage the weeks of training that employees complete into credit-bearing, externally recognized credentials through articulation. Many of us grasped this concept in high school when CLEP Exams or Advanced Placement courses might give us dual credit for high school and college. It turns out that many corporate training programs for customer-facing roles such as onboarding or retail manager training can be eligible for this kind of credit, as well.

Retention and Upskilling Advantage

“Credit for Prior Learning” (C4PL) is a strategic retention and upskilling advantage. Articulation may not show up in L&D circles often, but higher education is increasingly open to the idea of recognizing corporate training as credit toward a degree or stackable credential. The popularity of education benefits has led to a surge in working adult student enrollment, spurring innovations designed to meet student needs for flexibility and expediency. Credit for Prior Learning, or C4PL, has become a way for companies and universities to work together to validate on-the-job learning and accelerate skills acquisition.

Benefits abound. With or without an education benefits policy, employers who pursue articulation can still improve internal promotion pathways. By thinking about how to make training translatable, companies can create clearer pathways to upskill talent into the right roles. Better transparency helps employees see how to advance in a way that is quantifiable and measurable, which, in turn, leads to better retention and talent attraction. Some training can earn five to six credits for each program. Trimming 12 to 15 hours off a credentialed program through C4PL saves an individual (or company) thousands of dollars and can save a learner one to two semesters of classes. In addition, the employee is on an accelerated track to a promotion, meeting the company’s need for more qualified and experienced internal talent that will lead the business.

Focus on Competencies and Measurable Outcomes

Approaching credit for prior learning requires a design focus on competencies and measurable outcomes. If you’re thinking about leveraging your programs for C4PL, there are three critical considerations to take into account when designing credit-bearing, on-the-job learning.

  1. Design for generalized skills and competencies that matter outside of your program. Training that is only specific to company needs is fine for short-term ROI, but if you plan to win the war for talent, your employees need skills that don’t just apply to a single, highly specific context. Training that makes space for broader connections leads to durable skills, which carry value across roles and are foundational to developing more industry-specific knowledge. Putting formalized training into a context beyond company-specific branding, jargon, systems, and processes makes it significantly more translatable and, therefore, more likely to be articulated when you work with a credential-granting partner. It also creates talent that’s more fungible as business needs turn on a dime. This can lead to internal mobility. Front-line employees at Chipotle, for example, are 7.5 times more likely to be promoted when they use their company’s education program.
  2. Be intentional about demonstration and skill verification. Specific advancement and milestones on career pathways should be described and designed in terms of competencies or capabilities. Those competencies then can be verified through on-the-job work, manager observation, and in-the-moment, real-time assessment. Academic partners are more willing to confer credit when assessment allows for skills verification.
  3. Develop the partnerships. Although C4PL is catching on, the articulation process requires non-trivial investments from both academic and employer partners. Breaking down degrees or credentials modularly can be a tough sell. Taking a thoughtful approach to design and partnering with universities or learning marketplaces can help colleges serve more students and keep an open mind about modularization. IBM recently announced its 12-month software engineering apprenticeship program, which the American Council on Education—as part of a pilot pathways program—recognized as translatable to three semesters of academic credit at six participating colleges.

Making the effort to ensure corporate training is translatable and verifiable allows us to recognize the accomplishments of our learners, opens up opportunities for those learners, improves retention, and increases corporate agility to address skills needs as defined by our business partners. At the same time, threading this needle of personal and business impact gives L&D professionals the ability to deliver on our own mission—one that invests in people and ensures we’re making lifelong investments in their futures.