Kicking off just two weeks ago, the 4th Annual Close IT Summit in Dallas, TX brought together over 500 leaders from workforce investment boards, for-purpose organizations, and employers to focus on emerging trends in workforce development. The primary topic of conversation in 2016? Competency-based education, training, and hiring.

With the annual goal of the summit being to "close" the skills gap in America, speakers at the 2016 event dug into the growing emphasis on competencies, the need for new employment models, shifting hiring practices by employers, and the future of education. The Close It Summit can ultimately be considered as the epicenter for the shifting trends in competency-based education. From the conversations in keynotes, sessions, and conference exchanges, we compiled our top four learnings from the 2016 Close IT Summit below.

1. The Traditional Boundaries of Where and How We Learn are Being Bent

Night one of the summit brought us to Gilley's Club, where Anthony Miller of The Vistria Group moderated a panel discussion between Kiko Suarez of the Lumina Foundation, Jonathan Finklestein of Credly, and 12-year-old Kylee Majkowski, co-founder of Tomorrow's Lemonade Stand. The "mini-preneur" discussed how her company is preparing the next generation of leaders by focusing on skills not normally taught in traditional classrooms. Instead, her program focuses on creativity, risk, empathy and passion " skills required across all industries and occupations " and teaches these skills through experiential learning, outside of the classroom. Kiko Suarez supported this notion by adding that learning should not be locked into the period of time that you learn it. To ensure this is not the case, employers should focus on making sure employees are able to apply the work they've done at their specific organization to future positions at different companies.

2. Employers are Still Challenged to Find the Skills They Need

Nearly all employers reported the biggest "gap in skills" is the soft skills gap. Most agree that "hiring for attitude" is essential " role-specific skills can be taught on-the-job " but employers are finding that the workforce development system as a whole is not serving them adequately. While there is variety in the ways that individual employers define and implement competency-based hiring and training across different sectors, many ultimately focus on the same competencies by job level. Unfortunately, there is a general consensus that well under 50% of employers use a competency-based approach when hiring at the entry-level.

Combining competency-based hiring with gamification, Angela Antony of Scoutible introduced skills assessment video game designed to focus on what candidates can do, not where they've worked or the school they attended. The product is designed to be an innovative new way to help employers find candidates with the specific skills they need. As Phil Blair of Manpower said, "at the end of the day, the employers hold the "Golden Ticket' to the workforce development system " they provide the jobs."

3. We Need to Build Up Opportunity Pluralism

In his panel session, Richard Reeves, Co-Director at The Brookings Institution, commented that without the opportunity for social mobility, the U.S. would cease to be "American." Unfortunately, he noted that there are many socioeconomic factors that influence an individuals' mobility " the four key ones being family, education, race and location. For example, more than one out of three individuals born in the bottom quintile of wealth will remain stuck in the bottom quintile " but this number becomes even more dramatic for certain groups in the population.1 

Reeves also noted that the U.S. has historically had an "obsession" with four-year college " it is often considered the ultimate route to employment for students moving through secondary education. To contrast this notion, he emphasized the need for the us to expand opportunity pluralism to broaden the paths people can take that lead to human flourishing. This would require the system to think beyond just the four-year college and elevate the acceptance of other forms of learning. 

4. Partnerships Are Needed to Make Competency-Based Learning Scalable

Though many understand the need for learning and development opportunities within their organization, the real challenge comes from implementing a solution that can be necessarily scaled for your audience. In their breakout session, Penn Foster CEO Frank Britt and Banfield Pet Hospital's Whitney Taylor dove into how Penn Foster's integrated, competency-based Veterinary Technician Degree Program is helping over 1,000 Banfield associates earn their degree. The corporately-sponsored program enables employees across the country to work online towards earning their degree while continuing to work at Banfield, putting their learning into action on the job or in required externships.


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